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Diverse Voices The Key to Continued Internet Development

As the main United Nations forum for discussing Internet-related issues opens its third annual meeting in Hyderabad, India this week, the head of one of the world’s leading Internet organisations has called for ongoing commitment to multistakeholder processes for Internet development.

Speaking on the opening panel session of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), Lynn St.Amour, President and CEO of the Internet Society (ISOC) reminded participants of the proven effectiveness of the existing model of Internet development. The “Internet model”, as it is known, is characterised by distributed responsibility; collaborative decision making processes open to interested parties, in a framework of consensus-building practices; and the ability for innovation and evolution to take place at the user level.

“The Internet model underpins the incredible success of the Internet’s evolution to date,” said Ms St.Amour. “The Internet Society values the opportunity created by the IGF. We are encouraged to see the pursuit of issues in a multistakeholder engagement model. And we maintain that these outcomes would not have been possible in any of the traditional intergovernmental models.”

The IGF was formed as an outcome of the World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS). But, as a series of more traditional UN events, issues of accreditation, intergovernmental protocols, and other formalities restricted the range of voices WSIS heard on crucial emerging issues.

In response, the UN Secretary-General established the IGF to run annually from 2006-2010 as a multistakeholder, non-duplicative, non-decision-making forum for dialogue.

At this midpoint for the IGF, Ms St.Amour reflected upon the process so far, saying that it has been “a learning experience for everyone.” While the Internet community has always worked in open inclusive processes, this has not been a familiar model for all.

“Governments and intergovernmental organisations should value the IGF as an incredible opportunity,” said Ms St.Amour. “Nothing in the IGF either binds governments to implementation in their sovereign territory, nor prevents them from taking the actions they believe are in the interests of their citizens. In fact, participating in IGF enriches their, and their citizens’ decisions,”

There is evidence that understanding is building. In June this year, the OECD held a ministerial meeting on the future of the Internet Economy, in which ISOC played a leading role coordinating the inputs of many participants of the technical community, together with representatives of business and civil society.

While some critics have labeled the IGF a “talk-shop”, Ms. St.Amour argued that such statements miss the point.

“Without the regular intergovernmental constraints, the IGF has emerged as unique forum where ideas can be explored and tested by stakeholders, on an equal footing, unburdened by the constraints of intergovernmental procedures and negotiations.”

“Ideas can be explored and tested by stakeholders, on an equal footing, unburdened by binding decision-making processes and intergovernmental procedures and negotiations,” she said.

But Ms St.Amour also cautioned that the value of the IGF remains dependent on the commitment and support of its participants.

“The value comes from those of us here, those who follow remotely, and most importantly those who come away from this meeting and say ‘yes, I can use that back home’ – that is what makes the IGF worthwhile,” she said.

The Third IGF meeting runs from 3-6 December at the Hyderabad International Convention Centre.

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