This 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.
K Atique – e – Rabbani – Managing Director, The Computers Ltd; Former Secretary General of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services; expert on Native Language Internet Address. Based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Q: Why are you here at IGF?
A: The main mandate of the Native-Language Internet Consortium is to have convenient and very easy access to the Internet for the whole world. Now, of course that leads to local-language Internet access in a way that is equitable. Equitable meaning you are not handicapped because you’ve got a local language, you are just not fully represented in the Internet. And I think we believe that, you know, Internet gives us a chance to have a more equitable society in the whole world – developed and developing nations. For example, in Bangladesh there is a person called Dr. Muhammad Yunnis, he’s an economist, he gives credit to the poor, he gave mobile phones to the poor. That way, he empowered and brought dignity back to the poorest of the population. And when you do that, you remove the frustration, the feeling of being lost, and you empower them and you make for a peaceful environment.
Internet gives us a chance.
There are a lot of schisms and divisions in society and I think that comes out because of frustrations, that comes out because of your lost identity. If you kill a language, that means a whole group of people feel left out. There is frustration within. No matter how much you suppress, it comes out at other times.
Internet gives us a chance. You know it might take a long time, to be inclusive of all the people of the world and to give them dignity, to empower them, to know what their rights are and to play their part in the society of the world. That is our ultimate mandate, it might be a long time coming, but Internet gives you the chance.
Q: Who do you think is responsible for initiating that?
A: I think each country has a role to play. I mean, of course Internet was researched, government of the United States did a research project, produced the Internet, so naturally it was a wonderful thing to happen for the whole world. But now since Internet is impacting the whole world, it is our, the developing countries, the whole world’s, I think, responsibility to understand how it affects them and how it impacts them. And then to understand the situation of Internet governance and to play their part in it so that it works for the benefit of the whole world at large.
So we cannot really just blame ICANN or the Department of Commerce in the U.S.A. [for their controlling influence now]. They did the research, they did the work, to produce technology which is now serving the whole world. But it’s the developing nations’ prerogative and responsibility. But of course, it has to be a cooperative arrangement. We must talk with open minds. I know the Internet has alternate routes. China has a different naming system, but that’s not quite practical. We must have something which is unambiguous, so when we type a name in it doesn’t get confused and go to different places. So I think it’s a dialogue which has to happen and for a long time, an Internet governance, I don’t know, I’m not sure how it emerged, but it must be governed such that it doesn’t give advantage to a group and make a group disadvantaged. It shouldn’t really be governed in a manner that it does separate out societies.
Q: How can we best avoid perpetuating a digital divide?
A: People don’t know what is the main issue here. I think, for example, WTO, you know, the World Trade Organization for free trade. Now, the developing countries do not know enough of WTO to exploit advantages out of that. So it is their responsibility also to know about WTO, to exploit the advantages for their nation. Similarly, our participation in the Unicode Consortium, they encode all the languages of the world, they’re trying to do that. It’s an initiative done by say, you know, big companies in the U.S.A. But they have to kind of put their foot down and understand and make contributions so that their interest is served by the Unicode Consortium. Similarly, I think our understanding of present Internet governance and to be aware of the issues are extremely important and to be involved in it because it impacts us.
Now, the Westerners – the United States and the Europeans – who are more knowledgeable about this, it’s also their responsibility so that they enable this dissemination of information. Otherwise, again this division will arise, which is not good for anyone – it’s not good for the world.
Listening to Vint Cerf talking during this session. I mean, there is no answer at IGF; it will not perhaps do things; it will be sharing of information. Not many concrete decisions will be taken. But the ultimate goal is to understand, to realize and then perhaps all are harmonized into taking some decisions at a certain length of time, which will make for a better world.
We just want a peaceful world. Internet is already important. Internet is a vehicle through which you can actually aspire to have a more peaceful world. That’s what our mandate is.
Internet is not the main issue. It’s a vehicle, it’s a media, it’s a tool, by which you can actually open up and reach out and make for a better society. Internet is not the end in itself. It should be a harmonious society in which we are happy with the diversity, we are conforming to our own culture, but we are happy to coexist. I think that’s the issue.
For example, if there is a group of people whose language is almost diminishing or being extinct. Language is an identity, language gives you an identity, so if you diminish, if it’s extinct, or you know somebody imposes upon them, which has happened in many countries of the world, then, of course, there is a suppressed frustration which leads to conflict and all the rest of it. Internet gives you a chance for them to get back their identity and to live in harmony with the diversity. It’s not impractical because Internet is such a tool, which can help all the communities of the world to be able to participate.
That’s what Internet gives us, the chance it gives us. And that’s what we should grab and exploit. And to do that we must understand the Internet itself, governance, and of course, that way we can push our government to have better infrastructure, better knowledgeable people so that we exploit Internet for our own good. That’s the key goal, I think.
Q: What is your greatest fear for the future of the Internet?
A: I think the greatest fear is, of course, exclusion. You see, the world doesn’t stop at anything. We go on to have more technological advances, we go on to have more money, wealth, creation of wealth, corporations get bigger and bigger. But I think the more the divisions become bigger, the more the frustration, so naturally the fear is we do not wish to have a world which is more divisive.
For example, a person who is more aware of the technology can really gain from the advances in technology. But somebody who may not be able to achieve that. So the difference will become bigger and bigger. That is not necessarily whole environment. Whole world is a small community now. A thing happening in Bangladesh will not affect something in Pakistan or India or even in the United States. We are a very connected community. So, it’s not anymore a national thing. We are all small nations or big nations in a global community, which we cannot reverse. We cannot have old system of little nations all within an island by itself. So I think it is in our interest like in a family, everybody has equal opportunity or has a right to their own choices so that it makes for harmonious coexistence.
Q: What one key thing would you ask policy makers to do to ensure a positive future for network technology?
A: I think to have a very open mind. The point today that was being floated was that because of this ambiguity. For example, the Internet address must be unique. It must lead to one site. So, your university of Carolina, the site name is such that it cannot point to two different universities, but it’s happening. China has a route by themselves. They’re resolving, they’re translating, interpreting address on their own. That’s happening because I think they feel alienated. Now, the solution is not to have different organizations doing their own – replicating what ICANN has done. So it’s ICANN’s, I think, responsibility for Chinese or for other communities not to feel left out. I mean, you cannot have three governments in one country. The one government which it has must be open enough, must be honest enough so that people feel confident in that structure and platform. So what Vince Cerf was saying is absolutely true. You cannot a customer, an individual person, confused about, ‘where will I go if I write that address,’ because that will kill the whole system, but of course that’s happening. Now in order for that not to happen, you have to really open up your heart, open up your mind and see why is that happening, why can’t what ICANN is doing be more acceptable to people? So I think the right questions need to be asked, we need be very open-minded because we are all biased by our own thinking. I think that’s the challenge.
Q: What is ICANN?
A: ICANN is the organization, I think the short form is ICANN. It assigns names and numbers. When you type www. something .org, that name is assigned by ICANN at one stage. You apply for it. It’s Department of Commerce, U.S.A., they work under that. And ICANN, you know, Vince Cerf is a pretty well known name in the Internet world. He’s the chairman of ICANN. So it’s Internet, I don’t know what the C stands for. It assigns names and numbers, so when you wish to apply for a Web site, for your names, for example, you want to have a Web site under your name, you apply, and then if your name is not already used, then they’ll assign you an IP, a number, just a number, so that is what they’re doing. So if I apply under your name and I get a number, I get a Web site similar to your name, then of course it won’t work. It has to be unique. So ICANN is an organization which actually assigns unique names through which you access the Web.
Q: Describe IGF.
A: It should be more open and it should facilitate more participation. Not everyone can come to Athens. It costs money, naturally, and so it costs participation. And you cannot be patronizing. It’s human emotions which are at stake, which play a part. I think IGF gives us an opportunity. Of course, there might be limitations, but I think it’s the right step.
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.