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August 2, 2014 / bswitaba

Internet Governance Forum; Unveiling the Internet Policy Making


Once again the annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is here.
This year’s meeting is the 9th and will be hosted by Turkey.
The meeting will be held in Istanbul from 2nd – 5th September 2014.
The main theme of this year’s IGF is: Connecting Continents for enhanced multi-stakeholder Internet Governance (IG) – a theme said to be inspired by the location of the meeting after wide consultation among stakeholders.
For certain, the theme is indeed befitting considering Turkey’s location – it’s at the crossroads of Europe and Asia making it a country of significant geostrategic importance.

So what’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and what is it all about?

Scholars have always debated on what constitutes Internet Governance eliciting a controversy all together.
The IGF nevertheless as underlined in the Tunis Agenda, is a multi-stakeholder, democracy, and transparent forum which facilitates the discussions on Public policy issues related to key elements of the Internet Governance (IG).
Given it’s inclusive approach, the forum thus welcomes the participation of all players in the IG ecosystem, including all entities accredited by the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), as well as the institutions and individuals with proven expertise and experience in all matters related to IG.

IGF discussions during the week-long meeting in Turkey will centre around IG issues in the following thematic areas:
Policies Enabling Access; Content Creation, Dissemination and Use; Internet as an Engine for Growth & Development; IGF and The Future of Internet ecosystem; Enhancing Digital Trust; Internet and Human Rights; Critical Internet Resources and Emerging issues. Several different sessions are expected to be held, allowing for comprehensive debates reflecting the voices of various stakeholders from different parts of the world and building upon the discussions and outcomes of other IG meetings, fora and organizations.

The IGF will also act as a platform to actively respond to the deliberations and outcomes of the NETMundial in Brazil by forging forward the issues that were discussed in the meeting.
Typical of the IGF programme, there will be orientation sessions and capacity building opportunities for those interested, as well as the possibility for national and regional IGF initiatives to share their respective work and experiences.

IGF meetings constantly build upon the success and achievements of preceding ones.
This is usually crucial in improving the outputs of the meeting and increasing the linkage between the discussions, recommendations and possible solutions emanating from the various IGF sessions and the rest of the IG ecosystem.

 Who are the Internet Governance Stakeholders Involved?

One of the distinctive features of Internet governance is its multi-stakeholder participation approach.
Currently, there are a wide range of organisations involved in the international administration of the Internet. One of these, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a US Not-for-Profit organization. ICANN is the main Internet governance institution. Its responsibility is to manage the core Internet infrastructure, which consists of IP addresses, domain names, and root servers. ICANN’s role as the main Internet governance institution has however generated much debate that is unlikely to disappear.
Some countries are critical about the role of the US government and concerned that ICANN is not fully representative of all stakeholders. This has culminated to calls for moves towards independence for ICANN from the US government.
Several others play a role in developing internet policies and standards including:

  • The Internet Society (ISOC), an international membership organisation, responsible through groups such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for developing internet technical standards.
  • The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a body responsible for creating standards for the world wide web that enable an Open Web Platform, for example, by focusing on issues of accessibility, internationalization, and mobile web solutions.
  • The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is a UN agency responsible for a wide range of telecommunication matters, including technical standards and development activities.
  • Various international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

Generally, article 49 of the WSIS declaration, identifies the following main stakeholders and their respective roles in IG:
States :These are the ‘policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues’ (including international aspects).
The private sector :This constituency is responsible for the ‘development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields’.
Civil society : CSOs play a ‘pivotal role on Internet matters, especially at the community level.’

Intergovernmental organisations : The entities oversee ‘the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues’.
International organisations :As mentioned earlier on, these are simply responsible for ‘development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies’.
This implies that the Civil Society and Internet Users, the Private Sector, Governments, National and International Organizations, Research, Academic and Technical Communities all have a say in how the Internet is run.

How to get involved in the IGF discussions

IGF meetings are open to everyone and registration is free, but one is responsible for their own travel and accommodation.
Most stakeholders are funded by their supporting organizations and or constituencies.
There are IG ambassadors’ and fellowship programs for selected candidates from developing countries who otherwise cannot afford to attend in-person.
Such fellowships are offered via ISOC and DiploFoundation. It’s worth noting that these fellowships are purely on merit and selection on application is not guaranteed.

For those who cannot physically attend the meeting, IGF offers a variety of services to ensure that the power of participation is just a click away.
Virtual meeting rooms are available for nearly all sessions with access to meeting materials. For larger or general sessions, video and/or audio streaming and live transcriptions are accessible (this will need a faster and reliable Internet).
Last but not least, the Twitter savvy can get involved in the discussion using the hash tag provided by the IGF organisers.


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