Friday, November 03, 2006

IGF 2006: Reflections on IGF Athens 2006

Well IGF 2006 is over and done with. It has been an interesting week. My impressions? Well for the most part (a consensus agreed to by just about everyone I talked to) IGF has been the same people saying the same thing all over again, except in a different city. A lot of the same old agenda's were being pushed by the same bunch of people. Perhaps what is needed is some fresh blood and some new faces to bring about some fresh ideas (and hopefully real and practical progress).

The concluding session was basically a round of thank you's to all and sundry. Speaker 1 thanked everyone and said what a great week it was, Speaker 2 thanked Speaker 1 and everyone else and agreed what a great week it was. Speaker 3 thanked Speaker 1 and Speaker 2 and everyone else and agreed what a great week it get the idea.

Did IGF achieve anything? Yes and No. I'll do the "No" bits first. The workshops were pretty much a disaster. There was a complete lack of focus and speakers were drifting all over the place with what they had to say, except of course the workshop theme. There was just way too much drift from what the published workshop theme was, and what was actually discussed. Also alarming were some statements being made in workshops, one of which was that content should be censored not at the edge but within the network and a further supporting statement saying that NGN was the way to achieve this. There seems to be a concerted attempt to add credibility to NGN from this context of content regulation (which I consider to be plain marketing gimmick - it does not really offer anything what the Internet does not already have - see my earlier post on NGN). There was also the China bashing and an attempt by a workshop moderator in the main session (I can't remember his name but I think he was from The Economist) to draw Vint Cerf into the old ICANN debate. The biggest issue I guess is that IGF has "no teeth" so I am uncertain as to how things are to progress. It will require a helluva lot of co-operation, consensus, goodwill and flexibility by all stakeholders to make real and meaningful progress.

Now to the "Yes" bits. From an ISOC perspective, the various side meetings during IGF did much to forge new relationships between Chapters and to reinforce old relationships. What was lacking from ISOC was focus on what Chapters should be doing at meetings such as this, and there needs to be a strategy in place so optimum use of Chapter resources are made. Indication from other (non-ISOC world) delegates suggest side meetings with other participants probably achieved (for a good number of them at least) more than what the IGF itself did. These include commercial and non-commercial collaboration, which is great IMO. One thing IGF did achieve was a lessening of the demarcation normally seen at UN-type meetings – there were no specific tables with country names in the spotlight, however there were designated “government” seats in the prime location during the opening, but at least overall this is a positive move towards the red herring called “open multi-stakeholder process”. There is also the issue of IGF having “no teeth”, which has a good and bad side. Bad because there is no “outcome as such” to follow, but good that if there were an outcome, it could have potentially been hijacked by one group. The key now is to nurture the development of IGF as an entity to become a real and recognised forum which stimulates dialogue, collaboration and consensus, and promotes and works toward practical and not philosophical thoughts and actions.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

IGF 2006: Chair's round-up session

This morning was the Chair's round-up session for workshops. Some of the Chair's pretty much lost the plot and went into long drawn out rhetoric reading reports. I kept mine short and simple, highlighting the need to keep things practical, and consideration been given to the needs of remote communities at future IGFs, which includes communities in mountainous regions and other similar disparate areas. I was pleased that Nitin Desai, the IGF Chairman, picked up on this issue for remote communities in his overall summary later. My work (at least in the IGF 2006 context is done).

I also highlighted another favourite topic of mine - global warming - if our islands don't exist with a rise in sea levels, then what the IGF is all about, and what it is trying to achieve would be of no consequence to us. I saw a lot of nodding heads in the audience as I was speaking, so hopefully what I was saying was hitting home (unless of course these were attempts to shake off the effects of last night's drinking.....)

The full text of what I said follows:

Thank you, Mr. Chair. My name is Rajnesh Singh from the Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society. I am here to speak very briefly on what we discussed on ICT to Achieve MDGs and in particular, on issues facing small island states and developing economies. Our workshop was intended to highlight real issues facing small island states and developing economies, and what we hoped we would do is promote a bit of awareness and understanding of real world issues that we face. We hope through that that we fuel some discussion amongst stakeholders and that these stakeholders will then interact with us to work out what we need to do. Dr. Cerf was one of our panelists at the workshop and he said to really understand the issues facing small island states one has to physically visit the islands. Having a philosophical approach is fine, but unless and until you see what actually goes on in the islands, then only will you be able to appreciate what challenges we face. Just to add to that, I would also like to highlight the effects of global warming. If our islands do not exist, then all that we are doing here is of no consequence to us. I would also like to suggest that apart from island states, there are also some communities, perhaps in mountainous regions, that face similar issues to us, and we would like the IGF to consider for future meetings whether they could consider a specific focus on what needs to be done for these remote communities, be it in the islands, up in the mountains or wheresoever. Thank you very much, sir.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

IGF 2006: Should it be Internet Facilitation Forum instead of Internet Governance Forum?

I am sitting in the Wednesday Summing Up session which reviews yesterday's workshops and discussions. Vint Cerf intervened and suggested that the event has been titled wrong - it should perhaps be the Internet Facilitation Forum, not the Internet Governance Forum. This is an interesting suggestion. Indeed much of what is being discussed here is indeed more "facilitation" then "governance", keeping in mind that this forum has no actual "teeth" and is more for dialogue.

IGF 2006: PICISOC Workshop - ICT to Achieve MDGs

The PICISOC organised workshop was on Wednesday afternoon. Having done the workshop round over the past 2 days I was a bit worried that we may have limited numbers in attendance. However I was pleasantly surprised to get the headcount. A peak of around 80 attendees which makes it one of the better attended ones (some I went to organised by some "big names" had less than 10 in attendance).

We had a good and diverse line-up of speakers, something which I worked hard at in the limited time I had in pulling speakers together. Of course, we had our superstar, Vint Cerf, who kindly agreed to participate, and I guess some came just to hear and interact with him ;)

Other speakers included Bria McElroy from the Centre for Women and IT from the University of Maryland who very kindly agreed to come at very short notice, Keith Davidson from Internet NZ, Alex Ntoko from ITU, Mike Johnstone from Samoatel, Luke Phipps from VIA Technologies and Tai Purcell. Jovan Kurbalija from Diplo moderated the session whilst I chaired it. I started off with an introduction of the theme and what we hoped to achieve followed by Vint sharing his thoughts on the theme. We then launched into each speaker sharing their thoughts and a round-up by each. With the limited amount of time available for the workshop, there was only so much we could do with the workshop. At the very least, I hope we stimulated a bit of discussion on the topic and stakeholders continue this in the future. My emphasis was that we need practical outcomes and solutions, not philosophical ones (there is a tendency to have too much philosophical crap when it comes to the needs of small island and developing states). Where we go from here remains to be seen.

My slides from the workshop are available here and an audio recording of the workshop is available here (with thanks to Franck). The quality in the first half is a bit suspect, but improves in the second half, once some issues were ironed out.

IGF 2006: ISOC/GIPI Local Access Workshop

Tuesday was the start of the workshops at IGF with the ISOC/GIPI one first off the block. There was a fairly large and diverse line-up of speakers, and all pretty much spoke on different issues. I spoke on "Access Challenges in the Pacific". Slides from my presentation are available here.

The Workshop was well attended. The unfortunate bit is that there are upto 4 concurrent sessions running, which does not help those wanting to attend sessions which clash.

IGF 2006: A worrying thought

Sitting in on a Workshop titled "Content Regulation and Access" it was worrying to note that some were suggesting that "NGN" is the solution, as it can be "controlled" as and if necessary. In an earlier post I said that for all real intents and purposes, the Internet is the NGN. And "content control" is already available - be it denying freedom of expression (which is already being used by many) or blocking things like pornographic content. The notion of "content control/(child) pornogaphy control" should not be used as a tool to legitimise what is essentially a marketing gimmick.

IGF 2006: Defeated by Blogspot

My regular updates from IGF have been dealt a severe blow. Submissions using Blogspot's email engine has had the sh--s, so I have to resort to manual submissions, and with the generally unstable network at IGF this is getting hard. I will have to bulk upload later I guess.....apologies in advance to those looking for regular updates.