The UN General Assembly will soon debate the renewal of the mandate of the Internet Global Forum (IGF), which has its origin in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held, after a long preparatory process of seven years in two phases, Geneva 2003 and Tunis in 2005. The Basque Country took an active part in this process which led to the creation of the international network of local authorities IT4ALL in 2003 and organized the Second World Summit of Cities and Local Authorities on the Information Society in Bilbao in November 2005.

The WSIS was convened to discuss how to reduce inequality in access and use of the Internet and to overcome the global digital divide. However, the discussions centered on how the Internet should be governed, and debated the control of the United States over the domain of the names system. In order to solve this controversy it was created the Working Group on Internet Governance, with the task of defining the outlines of the government of the Network. The Group´s report suggested an innovative idea, compared to the controversy over who should lead the Internet – governments or private sector-, it proposed to foster communication between the different groups involved as the basis for such regulation, this means, the creation of an open platform for political dialogue. This is how the Forum was born.

The IGF has some innovative features that differentiate it from other United Nations meetings. UN meetings are primarily intergovernmental, there is an order of the intervention of representatives of governments and is usually done from a platform. In the IGF there isn´t an established order of interventions and everyone participates on equal conditions. If a civil society representative raises his hand before a representative of a government, he intervenes before. This is because it assumes that everyone has equal opportunities for expressing their views and because the purpose of the Forum is to foster discussion among different groups. Another important feature is that IGF is not required to present a declaration or final document under consensus. It is precisely this lack of obligation which allows a constructive political dialogue between companies, international organizations, civil society and governments. The purpose of the Forum is not to make policy decisions, but to provide guidance on specific issues of Internet governance.

In September took place in Vilnius, Lithuania, the fifth meeting of the IGF under the theme “Building the Future Together.” There were about 1.500 attendants from 107 countries and about 2.000 people around the world followed the debates and workshops on the Internet. Issues such as network neutrality, cloud computing, social networks, the balance between security and rights in the context of Information Technologies and Communication Technologies (ICT), Internet governance for development, promotion of access and promotion of linguistic and cultural diversity to make the Internet a more inclusive tool were discussed during this meeting.

Although it is too early to make an assessment of the impact of the Forum, we can draw some interesting conclusions. The first is to reduce the ideological features that conditioned the debate in the World. Although that claim remains, the IGF has addressed the issue from a more pragmatic and operational perspective through the incorporation of the views of the private sector and civil society, significantly different from the approach of governments. It has also helped not having to seek consensus on specific text. The participants have achieved a level of more constructive dialogue in addressing issues that are known in advance that there are divergent views. Thus, the Forum´s discussions have gained in maturity and confidence between the parties.

The mechanism of the IGF has also had a multiplier effect. In recent years there have been created forums in diverse countries and regions in which they address the issues of Internet-centric perspectives local and regional needs. Over the next few years we will witness the proliferation of these forums. At this point the renewed mandate of the Forum depends on the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly. Although almost all participants have advocated the continuation of the IGF and the general feeling is that its mandate should be renewed, it is unclear on what terms it will be.

There are interests from some governments for the IGF to be submitted to UN procedures and a greater governmental control which could influence its open and participatory condition. The recent announcement made by the executive coordinator Markus Kummer, informing that he will no longer continue in office for a second term, generated many uncertainties.

However, one of the most important challenges facing the IGF for the future is to make visible their work to the Internet community and to international society.

Source: El Correo