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The Forum : Is it really a good idea ?

So in all human affairs one notices, if one examines them closely, that it is impossible to remove one inconvenience without another emerging…. Hence in all discussions one should consider which alternative involves fewer inconveniences and should adopt this as the better course; for one never finds any issue that is clear cut and not open to question.

—Machiavelli, The Discourses

The WGIG Report contains a series of recommendations related to Internet governance mechanisms. Within those ideas, the report promotes the creation of a new space for dialogue for all stakeholders on an equal footing on all Internet governance-related issues, namely the Forum.

The idea of having a space for dialogue, in which all interested stakeholders can discuss a broad range of issues, usually exceeding the current structures’ scope, has its merits. There are a lot of matters that need to be addressed, and it would be very interesting having a place – or at least a mechanism – to do so.

However, there are some drawbacks in this approach, which need special consideration from all the interested stakeholders. Honestly, I think that this Forum would bring more problems and dilemmas than real solutions and the following are just a couple of thoughts that supports this point of view.

The Forum is supposed to be a very lightweight structure, but at the same time, it is expected to have the capabilities to “…Interface with intergovernmental bodies and other institutions on matters under their purview which are relevant to Internet governance, such as IPR, e-commerce, trade in services and Internet/telecommunications convergence…â€? and “…Address issues that are not being dealt with elsewhere and make proposals for action, as appropriate…â€?

These capabilities and many more needed for achieve the functions attributed in the report, are very unlikely to be found in such a lightweight structure. These functions imply not only a strong level of specific expertise in a wide variety of issues, but also funding, staff support, translations, etc.

Moreover, when you take a look at the comments received on the Chairs paper, and the challenging tasks assigned to the Forum by some of their biggest promoters, you start thinking at this as some romantic idea that still needs some work.

The WGIG also thought that this forum should preferably be linked to the United Nations, in a form to be defined, on the assumption that it would be better placed than the existing Internet institutions to engage developing countries in a policy dialogue.

The idea is clearly explained in the Background Report: “…Previous research on the participation of six developing countries in a wide range of international ICT fora and issues as well as in the ITU, WTO and ICANN has shown that factors such as lack of awareness of the relationship between ICTs and development, lack of technical, policy and financial capacity, and weaknesses in national and regional governance processes are serious obstacles to more effective participation by developing country stakeholders at the international level. â€?

The question that immediately comes to my mind is: Would the forum serve as an effective tool for the purpose of engaging development countries in policy dialogue?

Unfortunately, and having participated in the WSIS process these days, I am quite sure that it would not: This process has demonstrated so far to be very restrictive in terms of participation. Too many governments believe that the Internet has evolved from research and academic tools into a global facility available to the public and, being a central element of the infrastructure of the information society, it turns out in a kind of sovereign issue.

If the Forum is somehow linked to the UN, it is very likely to have a government driven agenda, and it is very unlikely to have a real “space for dialogue among all interested stakeholdersâ€?, unless of course you consider fifteen minute intervention once a day and poor presence in the real meetings a good starting point. After all, as one of my colleagues recently pointed out “a little bit is better than nadaâ€?.

One Response to “The Forum : Is it really a good idea ?”

  1. hanoiblogger Says:

    “If the Forum is somehow linked to the UN, it is very likely to have a government driven agenda…”

    Yep. There are many governments out there, some with murkier agendas than others. Tunisa might fall into the former category.

    Wether the Forum itself really is a good idea is another question, but maybe it is safe to say that it wasn’t a very bright idea of ISOC to lend credibility to the oppressive gangster government of Tunisia by supporting a meeting in Tunisia? There’s plenty of evidence that Tunisia isn’t a exactly poster child of the Information Age. Start here if you need to read more.

    “The IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) has issued a new report saying that Tunisia is unsuitable for hosting the U.N.-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in November 2005.

    Launched two months prior to the summit, the report reveals a serious deterioration in free expression conditions in Tunisia, marked by attacks on independent organisations, harassment of journalists and dissidents, and interference in the judiciary.”