Big turn-out at internet forum

The Sixth Internet Governance Forum was held in Nairobi, Kenya on 27- 30 September

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a multi-stakeholder event which brings together the global internet policy making community. Although it has no decision making role it has, over the years, influenced the way other fora and policy making processes have engaged with the policy debate. Thus, for example, the IGF has forged a multifaceted public policy debate around three equal pillars of security, openness and privacy.

At its 6th meeting in Nairobi, organized by DESA through Division for Public Administration & Development Management (DPADM) who provides substantive and administrative support to the IGF, in cooperation with the Government of Kenya and the UN Office, over 2000 badges were issued to participants with delegates attending from around the world; Africa (53%), WEOG (29%), Asia (11%), GRULAC (4%) and Eastern Europe (3%) including representation from 125 governments.

A core feature of any IGF meeting is the thematic workshops which are complemented by the main sessions around each of the core issues, namely Internet Governance for Development, Emerging Issues, Access and Diversity, Security, Openness and Privacy; Critical Internet Resources, Taking Stock and the Way Forward. In Nairobi over 100 of these were organized.

The theme for the sixth meeting was “Internet as a catalyst for change: access, development, freedoms and innovation”. Participants highlighted how the previous year had seen access to the Internet act as a catalyst for development of new freedoms and the delivery of innovative products and services. The debates on Internet governance for development highlighted the importance of emerging countries as centres of Internet innovations of global importance, especially with regard to services and applications, thus, ensuring that policy initiatives fully incorporated Internet governance issues for all countries, was seen as fundamental. Growth in mobile broadband access had accelerated in recent years, coupled with the increasingly pervasive smart phones, Internet access was becoming a reality for development projects across the world.

The constant evolution of Internet technologies and consumer use was seen as creating a myriad of emerging issues. Increasingly, mobile networks were becoming the norm for Internet access, raising new opportunities and challenges. The combination of smart phones, tablets and cloud computing was giving users unprecedented access to content and services, such as social networks, and the ability to communicate and make new associations. The management, allocation and assignment of radio spectrum was becoming a new policy focus area as the continuing growth in the use of mobile networks makes them the access technology for the Internet.

The debates over access and diversity focused not only on the availability, quality and cost of Internet access but also on the ways in which access to the Internet is increasingly seen as a human right. Establishing the rights of users to freedom of expression and freedom of association on the Internet as human rights was seen as one of the recent and fundamental developments in Internet public policy.

One key area of focus was on issues of access and diversity for the disabled, stressing that the need for designing access into products and services for the disabled was fundamental and that ultimately all people benefited from access regimes that addressed those needs; an example being the pioneering use of captioning throughout all sessions at the IGF. What was clear though, was that universal access to the Internet was fundamental to the lives of people worldwide.

The IGF has pioneered work which has inextricably linked the policy debates of security, openness and privacy, and linked these issues in a multi-stakeholder process. Such an approach encourages a debate about the responsibilities and limits to the action of different stakeholders across local, national and international communities, thus individual responsibilities and freedoms can be complemented by actions of other stakeholders and legislative processes.

In the coming months the critical resource that is the Internet will be subject to radical change. Not only will the continued diffusion and adoption of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) dramatically increase in capacity but also new generic top level domain names (such as by way of illustration .eco) will allow several hundred new ‘registries’ to be created; some of which may well be private. These transformations of Internet resources and the processes by which they had been implemented, especially the new generic top level domain names, provoked a debate about how best to secure open and multi-stakeholder participation across all Internet policy making fora and processes.

The theme of multi-stakeholder participation and the call for open and transparent policy debates underpinned the debates about taking stock and the way forward. The momentum that had launched the IGF, the desire to see all the people of the world enjoy the benefits of the Internet, continued to drive plans for the future of the IGF. As befitting a highly innovative technical system, the innovative approach of the IGF to policy making was seen as critical to its continued success. In the coming year, the IGF can make a significant contribution to DESA’s Rio+20 process as discussions around Internet governance have become ever more crucial in setting the ICT agenda and in solidifying the Internet as a catalyst for positive change and supporting sustainable development.

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