The opening plenary session of the second IGF-USA featured general remarks from leaders Judith Aren and Pablo Molina of the host institution, the Georgetown University Law Center, and from global IGF leader Markus Kummer and Ambassador Philip Verveer of the U.S. State Department.
Details of the session:
One highlight of the opening session of IGF-USA 2010 came when Markus Kummer, the executive coordinator of the United Nations-facilitated global Internet Governance Forum, reviewed the creation of many national and regional IGF initiatives. In the past few years the movement has spread to now include eight regional initiatives, such as the East African IGF, and 15 national IGFs. (Click here for links to these)
“It’s just proof that in many countries people feel the need of discussing the issues in multistakeholder situations,” Kummer said.
He emphasized the importance of discussing these issues nationally and regionally, not just globally.
“Global coordination cannot work if there is no coordination on the national level,” Kummer said. “This is particularly true in developing countries where quite often the Internet has developed outside the sphere of governance. It is particularly important that these initiatives happen in developing countries so they realize the importance of understanding the discussions with these multistakeholders.”
Pablo Molina, chief information officer at Georgetown University Law Center, said such Internet governance talks should continue, especially in the United States. He noted that one in every five U.S. university students has taken a class online.
“It was once said that all that’s needed to have a university is a library and a printing press.” Molina said. “I would argue that today, all is needed is the Internet and a savvy community of faculty, staff and students.”
The IGF is a place where businesses, civil society, government, academia, technologists and researchers can discuss current topics and issues and the positive evolution of the Internet. Kummer called it a “soft” governance approach, offering a way for people learn from each other how best to improve working with the Internet, tackling problems not through treaties, but through best practices.
“The Internet itself obviously is deployable for both positive and negative purposes,” said Ambassador Philip Verveer of the U.S. State Department. “The positive is on exhibit here in the program today.”
Verveer said the positives of the Internet include the spread of knowledge and efficiency and the challenges include threats to cybersecurity and to children online.
“The IGF has been criticized for not producing concrete results, as a UN meeting normally produces some sort of resolution, however you usually pay a price for getting there,” Kummer said. “[In the IGF] we focus more on the substance, and by not having a negotiating framework, it allows for free dialogue.”
The United Nations will be deciding later this year whether to extend the mandate for meetings of the global IGF past the initial goal of having five annual sessions. “I am very optimistic the UN is going to extend the IGF and hopefully without any changes,” Verveer said.
Kummer said the majority of the people who have been involved in the IGF process to this point have expressed a desire to keep it as a non-negotiating platform, while others want to change the parameters, maybe to move toward some form of negotiating platform. Some people have said that if there are not major changes in the way it operates the IGF should not continue. The UN may make some suggestions about the future direction of IGF if it is to be continued past the fifth meeting, which takes place in September, 2010, in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“The question is will it be a simple ‘yes,’ or will it be a ‘yes’ but with certain conditions attached,” Kummer said.
To read more about the global IGF, click here.
-Rebecca Smith and Sam Calvert