Today the Swedish IT Minister Åsa Torstensson together with the Commissioner Viviane Reding sent a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. I think the letter is extremely well written, but when I twittered about it, some people contacted me and asked what was so special with it?
Let me try to explain…
In traditional processes in the world a very hierarchal system is used. This regardless of whether it is inside an organization, inside a country, or a world wide discussion. Only very few individuals are appointed being rapporteurs or representatives from each organization, and then those and only those people meet. Specifically if discussions are cross border discussions, then traditionally discussions have been only intergovernmental, i.e. between governments.
On top of this, in the processes where governments discuss, and have the formal role, other organisations might be allowed as observers, or maybe even participants at the meetings, although not really having as formal role as governments. But, also this status is only given to certain parties. And it might be very difficult (or expensive, or both) to join. And to get a voice heard as an individual might be extremely hard if at all possible.
What has happened with deregulation of the telecom market, and specifically introduction of Internet, is that more and more organisations are interested in having a say in the various decision making processes. And on top of that, what during the time of traditional telecommunication was agreed upon by discussions between countries (or was it between the incumbents…who knows?) is now resolved by private entities. That make their products available in the market economy we live in.
These players, ISPs for example, have started new processes and organisations where for example operational matters are discussed. Processes where every participating party have the same say. Where it is easy to participate (often discussions are held on open mailing lists that anyone can subscribe to). And if one such process is not good enough, it is improved, or replaced. Or the topic that the organisation could not handle is moved to yet another organisation. New or already existing.
We have moved to a situation where even the organisations to some degree compete with each other. Or complement each other, which I think is a better way of looking at the situation, because the cooperation between the organisations is good. Also between these new organisations and traditional ones.
Examples of new organisations are the Regional Registries (RIPE, ARIN, LACNIC etc), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Internet Society (ISOC), ICANN, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and many many more. And of course I have to mention specifically the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) that try a non-binding, bottom-up, multistakeholder process within the UN system. I therefore see the IGF not only as an important forum where things are discussed, but also the IGF process itself is interesting. Is the IGF process the embryo of a something that can replace or complement many existing intergovernmental discussions? Would COP-15 in Copenhagen be more successful with an IGF like process? Or rather, have COP-15 looked at how IGF works, and maybe try some of the IGF ideas?
Anyway, as you now hopefully understand, the IGF process is different (like many new processes and organisations). So organisations (like governments) that are used to the traditional processes to some degree are confused. Everyone has to adopt. The traditional processes have their good things, and the new processes have their good things. I think the solution is to get something in between. Is the ICANN ideas on a strengthened GAC in the middle of the bottom up multistakeholder process ICANN is aiming for the correct mix? I guess historians will tell us 100 years from now.
What is then good with the letter? Let me quote a bit from the press release itself, which for me show a recognition that Internet (and IGF) is different exists. Clearer than ever before:
Since the Internet is managed and developed by a wide range of actors scattered around the world, there is, and will continue to be, a need for a global forum that can involve all types of stakeholders in the discussions and exchanges of views. That is why the Internet Governance Forum is so unique and important, says Chair of the Council and Minister for Communication at the Swedish Ministry of Enterprise, Åsa Torstensson
Elegant, clear, and right on the spot!
Let’s now hope the UN Secretary General understand what importance there is to continue the evolution of the IGF — not only for the ideas discussed there — but also for the process itself.