[Read more session reports and live updates from the 13th Internet Governance Forum]
The open forum addressed some of the challenges that the IGF has been addressing, including fewer high-level attendees, lack of stable funding resources, and hurdles to secure host countries. The speakers highlighted that some practical steps, such as having fewer parallel sessions, investing in tangible outcomes, and engaging more high-level leaders should be implemented to strengthen the forum. The IGF is fundamental at a moment when the Internet is at the centre of political and commercial practices that may have implications for a global and decentralised Internet infrastructure.
Mr Frederic Donk, Regional Bureau Director for Europe, Internet Society (ISOC), moderated the forum and pointed out a sort of fatigue about the IGF among the community and asked the stakeholders for solutions.
Mr Andrew Sullivan, President and Chief Executive Officer, ISOC, started by stressing that the ISOC is made up of participants, of members of chapters, of organisational members all around the world. This frames the way the Internet works. To ensure that the Internet is for everyone the two following issues must be addressed:
- Connectivity. In many places connectivity is extremely bad and unlikely to get better without concerted action by a large number of participants.
- Trust in the infrastructure. People need to believe that the Internet infrastructure is trustworthy and not hostile, especially with issues around the security of the Internet of Things (IoT). In the past, more connectivity was always welcomed; however, recently, people have become afraid of the Internet. ISOC wants to make sure that these two aspects are secured.
Mr Thomas Schneider, Ambassador and Director of International Affairs, Switzerland, pointed out that the IGF, since the beginning, has been a compromise in making people understand, in a solution-orientated way, which issues are relevant for Internet functioning. He believes that the forum has fulfilled this purpose. The fatigue mentioned by Donk is related to the fact that the community is not sure which direction the IGF should take now. The Internet has extensively evolved since 2005, and a general perception exists that the IGF does not create outcomes. Last year, the stakeholders tried to make the forum more tangible and interactive. However, the forum needs a more political figure on top and more structured co-operation, using the principles of inclusivity, transparency, accountability, openness, and diversity. He suggested that the IGF community should put forward some names.
Mr David Martinon, Ambassador for Digital Affairs, France, stressed that the French government is in line with Mr Schneider’s comments. He added that France is very enthusiastic about the UN. However, the IGF’s discussions should go further now and define a global position on the Internet’s main issues. This position will be possible only if the forum is transparent, opened, understandable, universal, and efficient. He concluded by stressing that the fact that the website of the UN IGF is under attack shows that the forum is a strategic place.
Mr Gunther Drathwohl, Counsellor at German Ministry for Economy Affairs, emphasised the importance of keeping the Internet open, secure, reliable, and a truly global infrastructure. He believes that the IGF has a future. Improving the forum depends on:
- A relevant agenda, which has to be developed in co-operation with all stakeholders, from all regions of the world. Considering that the German government decided to make funds available for the UN to cover travel expenses from participants from the Global South to Berlin
- Engaging high-level representatives of governments and business (some achievement has already been reached and President Macron will be present in the IGF)
- Focusing on co-operation with national parliaments and the European Parliament.
Mr Raúl Echeberría, Vice President, Global Engagement, ISOC, highlighted that ‘the world is much better with the IGF than without the IGF.’ However, the IGF has to be improved so as not to become irrelevant to the stakeholders. Practical things should be put in place, such as reducing the number of sessions and investing in the intersessional activities. He believes that the IGF already produces many useful outcomes, but to become more meaningful the forum should be focused on a few tracks, instead of uncountable parallel issues, since it is easier to review a few outcomes in a high-level discussion. He ended up by claiming ‘let’s reform the IGF to not destroy it.’
Ms Lynn St Amour, UN IGF MAG Chair & CEO Internet Matters, started by underlining that many of the improvements the forum needs will require more staff and resources. The Secretariat runs on a staff of four and one of those is an IT person. The efforts to work co-operatively with over 110 national, regional, and IGF youth initiatives, with over four best practice forums, over 17 dynamic coalitions, and a major policy initiative, and, of course, trying to support and drive the work of 55 active MAGs should be not underestimated. Finally, she commented on the focus on creating more tangible outcomes. Last year the Geneva Messages were put in place and it needs now to be institutionalised. Going forward, there will be IGF messages not only for the main sessions, but also for every workshop session. The messages are needed to engage the community better.
By Ana Maria Corrêa