Opening Address by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Internet Governance Forum
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, 15 November 2009

I am delighted to be here with you in Sharm El Sheikh for the fourth meeting of the Internet Governance Forum. I would like to thank the Government and people of the Arab Republic of Egypt for their warm welcome and generous hospitality.

We are gathered here at the IGF to address important public policy issues related to the governance of the Internet.

It is clear that we share a common understanding: as we progress in bridging the digital gap and building the foundation for an emerging information and knowledge society, the way we deal with the Internet will become increasingly important.

Therefore, the overarching theme for our meeting – “Internet Governance: Creating an opportunity for all” – is timely and appropriate. It will allow us to re-examine and reflect on the main themes of the IGF: access, diversity, openness, security and critical Internet resources.

Since the time this powerful tool of development was first introduced to the world by the United States, which has continued to lead the world in innovations in ICT and Internet applications, the Internet has undergone profound changes. Even in the last five years, during the time of the IGF, the Internet has continued to evolve every single day and at a very fast pace.

The number of people going online has surpassed one and a half billion, a quarter of the world’s population. Ever increasing numbers are opting for high-speed Internet access, with fixed broadband subscribers more than tripling from 150 million in 2004 to an estimated 500 million by the end of 2009, according to ITU. There are now 4.6 billion mobile cellular subscribers around the world. Some 600 million of them are broadband subscribers, underscoring the huge potential of mobile Internet around the world.

Though the digital divide is wide – with Africa and Arab States lagging behind Europe, Asia and the Americas – gains are being made. In 2005, more than 50 per cent of people in developed regions were using the Internet, compared to 9 per cent in developing regions and only 1% in least developed countries. By 2009, the number of people connecting in developing countries had expanded by an impressive 475 million to 17.5 per cent, and in LDCs by 4 million to 1.5 per cent, while Internet penetration in developed regions increased to 64 per cent.

Against this backdrop of rapidly changing Internet demographics, there are questions about how best to manage critical resources, expand access, and fully integrate all the world’s languages. These issues, and other aspects of Internet governance, must be addressed for the sake of development, especially in light of the 2015 target of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The IGF serves to foster dialogue by giving voice to a wide range of views. As you know, the IGF brings together diverse cultures: the non-governmental Internet community, with its tradition of informal, bottom-up decision-making; the dynamism and inventive spirit of the private sector; the networked world of advocacy groups that make up civil society; and the politically sensitive world of governments and intergovernmental organizations.

The IGF works through voluntary cooperation, not legal compulsion. IGF participants come here to discuss, to exchange information and to share best practices with each other. While the IGF may not have decision-making abilities, it informs and inspires those who do. It can identify challenges and issues of concern, issues that may need to be tackled through formal processes.

The IGF thus provides a neutral space where all actors have a chance to express their views and be heard, and create momentum for mobilizing decisions and action.

In this dialogue, the voice of developing countries must be heard. Good and democratic Internet governance is a means of achieving development for all. I would like to invite each of you, regardless of country, role, or status, to express your views – to make yourself heard and understood, and to understand the views of others in the spirit of inclusion and open debate.

This brings me to a critical decision that we will have to make about the future of the IGF.

The World Summit on the Information Society recognized that the Internet needed new ways of addressing governance issues. Heads of State and Government, gathered in Tunis in 2005, carefully considered some of the founding principles of the Internet. From this perspective, they decided to ask the Secretary-General to convene a new multi-stakeholder platform to discuss public policy issues related to Internet governance, in what we now know as the Internet Governance Forum.

At its inception, the IGF was given a provisional lifespan of five years. The Tunis Agenda specifically called on the Secretary-General “to examine the desirability of the continuation of the Forum, in formal consultation with Forum participants, within five years of its creation, and to make recommendations to the UN membership in this regard”.

These important consultations will be held at this meeting in Sharm El Sheikh later this week. I encourage you to participate fully in these meetings and to share your views.

If you believe the Forum is valuable, I would encourage you to say so – and tell us in what ways.

If you believe it can be improved, I would encourage you to say that too – and tell us how.

If you believe that the IGF has fulfilled its purpose, I would encourage you to speak out against an extension of the mandate – and tell us why.

I invite all of you to create a checklist against the IGF Mandate as set out in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, and tell us precisely to what extent has the Forum addressed its mandate, successfully, partial successfully or unsuccessfully.

The last but not least question is whether we should continue to discuss enhanced cooperation as part of the Forum, which is a non-decision making platform, or we should instead incorporate enhanced cooperation in other platforms. And tell us what platform it should be.

Let us be open and honest with one another, as is the IGF custom. Based on these consultations, I will report back to the Secretary-General. He will then make his recommendations in his annual report to the General Assembly, next year, on WSIS follow-up and implementation.

In closing, let me reiterate that the Internet is a powerful tool. It will assist us to reach the Millennium Development Goals and improve the lives of millions of people by 2015.

With its overarching development perspective and cross-cutting priority of capacity building, the IGF fully complements one of the United Nations’ central mandates, to promote higher standards of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development.

We, in UNDESA, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, will be listening very carefully to what you have to say over the next few days.

I wish you all stimulating and fruitful discussions.

According to the IGF practice, the host country has the chairmanship of the Forum. Thus, let’s endorse this tradition with acclamation. Now, I have the honour to handover the chairmanship to His Excellency Dr. Tarek Kamel, Minister of Communications & Information Technology of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

Thank you.