2 November 2006


2 november 2006
Press Release
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


(Received from a UN Information Officer)

ATHENS, 2 November -– The basic message of the first meeting of the Internet Governance Forum was that the Internet should be “accessible, usable and safe for all”, Nitin Desai, the Special Adviser of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Internet Governance, told participants today at the closing of the meeting in Athens.

The Forum –- held as a result of the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis last November -- had largely been about issues of equity and freedom, Mr. Desai told the more than 1,200 participants from government, information technology firms, non-governmental organizations and the Internet community who had gathered for the four-day Forum.

“The focus was very much on equity,” he said, adding that many themes had been addressed -- access cost, Internet users in developing countries, local content, internationalized domain names, access by people whose language was not English and the script was not Latin.

“All of these are essentially discussions about equity,” he said, and the message was that the Internet was a fantastic tool of communication, “but an issue of equity of access has developed, which we need to address”.

The second broad theme, Mr. Desai said, had been freedom, and what some considered being wrongful suppression of freedom of expression, as well as the question of reconciling freedom with issues of digital identity and Internet security.

In terms of modalities, much of the discussion had centred around the unresolved tension between relying on the market and focusing on the “public good” nature of the Internet.  Participants had argued that because the Internet was a medium, unlike so many others, where the innovation took place at the edges, there was a need to keep a structure and modality of management that allowed innovation without excessive amount of central control.  “Otherwise, the medium will stop developing,” he said.

Mr. Desai observed that another unresolved issue concerned competition policy and where it should be handled -- especially issues of competition at the global level.  “There are questions which arise from the way people approach the modalities of management of the Net which we still need to look at,” he said.

Addressing the Forum process, Mr. Desai added, “This particular session was an experiment in a multi-stakeholder environment, an open-door experiment.  There is no membership in this Forum as such.  And I will say that the broad assessment is that in a broad sense it has worked, but we need to do many things to improve it.”

One interesting idea which had emerged, he said, was setting up a network very much like the Internet Engineering Task Force, “where you put out a request for comments, people comment on it, there is a procedure for aggregating these comments and a rough consensus becomes the basis”.  Several people were thinking in terms of working on this concept at the Forum, and the real issue was that policy discussions were more complex than engineering discussions.

He said the Forum had worked, but there had been issues arising from three cultures coming together and needing to make adjustments.  There was the world of the United Nations with its diplomatic culture, its statements, its protocol on how to talk with other countries.  There was a non-governmental organization culture which stressed advocacy, and stated its views strongly because that was the only way to be heard.  And there was the culture of business, which was uncomfortable with generalities and focused on practical partnerships and applications.  Governments had to accept that, in an open Forum, people would be more frank than at a diplomatic conference; civil society had to accept that, if the goal was to achieve joint action, a degree of restraint was needed; and industry had to accept that there would be a certain amount of discussion of principles.

“This is a very first exercise,” Mr. Desai concluded.  “In my country, we have arranged marriages, and usually the first meeting between the boy and the girl, they are scoping each other out, so the conversation tends to cover everything.  And at the second and the third meeting they start talking about more specific things -- what are your tastes in this area or that area.  So let's just treat this as a first meeting, where people have just gotten to know one another and maybe it will lead to marriage.”

The Chairman of the Forum, Micalis Liapis, Minister for Transport and Communications of Greece, said that like the Internet itself, the conference had indeed been a success in that it had managed to create a platform for dialogue, allowing different groups to connect better and to bring in views from all over the world.

Paul Twomey, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said that as someone who had been involved in the founding, evolution and management of one of the world's first multi-stakeholder organizations, he had to put the question: “Is everybody engaged?”  He challenged, in particular, business and civil society in the dialogues that would take place between now and next year’s Forum, asking them, “Are you sure that the governments are engaged in the dialogue?”

It was very easy, he said, to be involved in what one thought was a multi-stakeholder structure and find out it had become a civil society structure or a civil society and business structure.  While participating in this unique institution under United Nations auspices, it was worth keeping that test in mind, and ensuring that all voices were participating.

The final day of the Forum heard summaries of the meetingsthat took place during the four-day gathering, taking stock of its main achievements and looking forward to the next meeting in Rio de Janeiro in November 2007.  The Forum will meet in India in 2008 and in Egypt in 2009.

Summing up the main sessions, Markus Kummer, Executive Coordinator of the Forum Secretariat, noted that through all the speeches there had been a common thread expressing recognition of the Internet as the backbone infrastructure of the global information and knowledge society.

On the issue of access, Mr. Kummer said the common feeling had been that increasing access remained one of the great challenges facing the Internet community.  To address the digital divide, there was a strong feeling that introducing competition, removing blocks to competition and enacting telecommunications sector reform were of fundamental importance.

Many participants had stressed that the affordability of access was decisive in using the service, also pointing out the discrepancy in access charges.  The London- New York route was the world’s most intensively competitive and largest market for international connectivity, one participant had said.  But the price of traffic between North and South America was 60 times more than between London and New York.

On the issue of diversity, one panellist had said that some 90 per cent of the world’s 6,000 languages were not represented on the Internet, leaving people “left out in the desert of no information and no knowledge”.  The challenge was to develop internationalized domain names in different languages and scripts while preserving the security and stability of the domain name system.  On the positive side, all major browsers used in the main operating system now supported internationalized domain names.

Reporting on “Domain Name System” and “Root Zone File” management, Milton Mueller, of Syracuse University and the Internet Governance Project, said the panellists and the audience had vigorously aired conflicting views on the political, economic and technical issues raised by management of the “DNS root zone” file.  All seemed to agree that this topic was “the elephant in the room” and that it was time to discuss it openly.  On the issue of universal control by the United States Government, some felt that the situation was tolerable as long as the arrangements were stable and the root-server operators had one clear, authoritative source for the root zone file.  Those willing to tolerate the status quo did, however, acknowledge the possibility of an arbitrary unilateral action that could strain or break down global coordination.

On the benefits and dangers of a move to an internationalized root zone file management, Dr. Mueller said, one panellist had offered a detailed proposal to internationalize root oversight, arguing that it would remove a huge distraction from the ICANN regime and improve stability.  Others had complained that such a change would bring destructive governmental conflict into a domain that should be governed by commercial and technical criteria.  Another panellist had argued that whatever new arrangements were adopted, they must give a voice in the regime to excluded developing countries and achieve more legitimacy.

During the four days of the Forum, several concrete partnerships, dubbed “dynamic coalitions”, were formed on issues such as multilingualism, digital identities and an Internet Bill of Rights.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.