Elon University

An interview transcript from the first Internet Governance Forum, Athens, Greece Oct/Nov 2006: Markus Kummer

IGF 2006 LogoThis is a transcript from a series of video interviews designed to assess major issues tied to the diffusion of the internet. It is the record of one of many interviews conducted in 2006 with international internet stakeholders from 18 different nations at the world’s first Internet Governance Forum in Athens, Greece. The Athens IGF was the first of five annual global events administrated by the UN to focus on discussion of the overarching issues tied to the future of information and communications technologies. More than 1,200 participants shared information, experiences and best practices.

Kummer Headshot Markus Kummer- Executive coordinator of the Internet Governance Forum Secretariat. This Swiss diplomat also led the secretariat of the United Nations Working Group on Internet Governance, appointed to plan the first Internet Governance Forum, and he chaired the group that developed the text on internet governance for the World Summit on the Information Society’s “Declaration of Principles.” 

The Transcript:

Q: What was/is the UN’s involvement in this forum?

A: It wasn’t the UN’s idea from the start. It was the outcome of a situation when heads of state and heads of government who invited the secretary-general of the UN to convene such a forum for multi-stakeholder, public-policy dialogue.

I think what is remarkable in this context is that it was actually governments that did not actually ask for a meeting among governments, but they asked for a meeting where they would meet as equals with other stakeholders, private sector, business, civil society and the internet community. This has basically been what the secretary-general had to do. He was given an order by heads of state and government, and it’s difficult to say no, so this is the UN involvement, and in order to do this he set up a small secretariat to prepare the meeting.

Q: Would you say the UN is serving as a moderator between the sectors?

A: Well, I would call it, rather, a facilitator to make sure this meeting takes place to fulfill a mandate that was given to the UN by the Summit (the World Summit on the Information Society).

Q: Would you define what is meant by “governance”?

A: We spent considerable time discussing this at the Summit. We finally adopted a definition which was prepared between the two phases of the Summit. I suppose I should know it by heart, but it’s a fairly complex, academic definition which, in essence, means “governance” does not equal “governments.” It involves all stakeholders. It’s the process of governing. And, in the case of the internet, it goes beyond the numbering and addressing. As you may recall, the core resources of the internet – the numbers and addresses – are administered by a U.S.-based, non-for-profit organization – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – and that was very much the political center of debate at the Summit, but the Summit also concluded that this is not the “end” of internet governance. Internet governance is much broader. It does not only refer to the infrastructure of the internet, but also to the use of this infrastructure. And the use of this infrastructure and the issues we have on the agenda now are very much the issues that were highlighted by the Summit as the issues of priority concern to the international community.

Q: How can the IGF help stakeholders resolve their differences?

A: I think conflicts and tensions will always persist, but I think what the forum can do is to bring people together to talk to each other. One of the panelists at the very first interactive session pointed out that there were people in the room who, four years ago, would not have talked to each other. Not because they thought the others were the devil or something, but they’d never had anything to do with their different walks of life. And the Summit process has brought people together. Another delegate mentioned, hey, it’s amazing when you go to breakfast you sit with business, civil society, government. You mingle with these people who you hardly knew before. I mean, yes, civil society always knew there were governments, but you did not relate directly to them. Just these facts can actually help to create a better understanding and also to ease potential conflicts.

It is a learning process, and all the actors have to learn something. Governments have to learn how to deal with civil society – they function differently. Civil society also has to function differently from being pure advocacy groups by coming into a process where you try to find solutions and they cannot just keep doing lobbying work. You have to engage in dialogue and be ready to compromise.

We’re at the beginning, but I think – all in all – we’re off to a good start. There’s hope for optimism.

Q: IGF is in the dialogue stage now. How does it move from there to taking action?

A: The forum, as such, has not been created as a platform for action. It has been created as a platform for dialogue. Action may emerge from this dialogue. It will not be a top-down, organized action. It will be an action that will emerge out of these contacts. We said from the beginning there may be what we termed “dynamic coalitions” emerging from the forum, and this seems to be taking place. We have heard about initiatives that have taken off here in Athens that will continue beyond Athens, and we’ll learn more at the next meeting, in Brazil, about what will happen out of these initiatives.

Q: What are your greatest hope and your greatest fear for the future of the internet?

A: I would say the biggest hope is that it stays as it is – as a creative medium that allows for innovation. We don’t know yet what it may be. We did not know five years ago that we would have video streaming, and voice-over-IP and so on and there may be much more in store for us. The biggest fear – I would say that maybe commercial interests take over too much, that they do not prevent creation of a two-track or two-tier system could be one of the pitfalls. That would create a two-tier internet community which I, for one, would consider as not a desireable development.

Q: Describe the future impact of the internet in one word.

A: Bright.

This video transcript is offered for use under a Creative Commons Noncommercial License allowing no derivative works. Executive producers, Erin Barnett and Janna Quitney Anderson; chief engineer, Bryan Baker; videographers, Barnett and Baker; editor, Barnett.