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Chairman’s Closing Remarks of IGF Open Consultation (13 Feb 2007)

13 February 2007 IFG Consultations Geneva

“Taking stock and the way forward”

CHAIRMAN NITIN DESAI - Conclusions

I think we’ve had a very valuable and useful discussion. I’m going to try and say a few things which draw on this, as well as perhaps integrating some ideas which emerged yesterday in the discussions in the Advisory Group.

But I would like to start with one very important point right at the beginning.

When we met about a year ago, it was almost exactly a year ago we met here, and had this consultation on how the Internet Governance Forum should be organized, what form it should take, and all of these issues, and that’s when we came to certain conclusions — well, more correctly, that on the basis of the consultations, as a special advisor, I advised the Secretary-General to set up the forum on a certain basis, which is as an open-door forum with an Advisory Group of about 40 people organizing it, with certain themes, etcetera.

What I find very interesting is that, a year later, that basic structure is something which most people –in fact, I did not hear any dissent — is comfortable with.

I’m very impressed by the fact that every single person who has spoken has welcomed the particular form which this multistakeholder concept has taken, with all the stakeholders participating on a footing of equality.

I would particularly like to stress that perhaps the greatest adjustment that had to be made here was by the government delegates who considered this matter.

And I’m truly impressed by the fact that every single government delegate here has welcomed this particular structure and format.

And I would like this to be borne in mind, that in some ways, it is the government delegates who have made the greatest leap in terms of process, compared to the systems that they are used to.

And that, perhaps, is the reason why some of you felt that at the Athens meeting they were often a little more restrained, did not — there to listen rather than fully participate.  I’m not sure that’s entirely true.

I know that a lot of them were very active participants in the discussions and the debates.
And certainly the government representatives on the Advisory Group are very active participants in all of the debates and discussions which take place there.

And, I do believe it’s important to place this on record, that there is, you know, sort of universal acceptance of the concept of the IGF as a multistakeholder forum, more or less running in the way in which it ran in Athens, with a responsibility for organizing it resting in an Advisory Group.

This does not mean that people accept everything that was done under these two heads.

There are clearly many valuable suggestions which have been made as to how this dialogue should be structured, some of them issues of logistics, some of them issues about organization, the length of sessions, and size of panels. And I’m sure these matters which can and should be taken into account in designing this event in future.

But the basic concept of a moderated discussion among stakeholders around themes seems to be something which is broadly acceptable.

Equally, on the Advisory Group, I have heard the comments which have come about the nature of this Advisory Group, its composition, its process, the need for transparency, for being better informed on what it does and so on, which I’m sure we will take on board and take care of, for the work of the group.

I certainly would wish to recommend to the Secretary-General that in future, as in the past, the Advisory Group should always work with a process of open consultation, as we did try to do throughout the preparations for the Athens meeting and, for that matter, earlier with the working group also.

So it’s not as if everything was right. There are many corrections, adjustments, modifications we need to make to this basic structure of the multistakeholder forum and the Advisory Group, which is authorized to organize it.

And, I would certainly wish to convey the many valuable suggestions which have come in the course of these two days of discussion to the Secretary-General on this basic format.

But, I do believe this is an important advance, because when we discussed this a year ago, we had decided to do Athens as an experiment. And that is why the mandate was only for Athens.

And, we had said that we would — the Secretary-General had said that he would look at the matter after Athens and then come to further conclusions on that basis.

So in some ways, I believe that we have moved forward in terms of our acceptance of the process.

Forgive me if I keep reverting to my marriage analogies, but as I explained in Athens, what Athens was a, I come from a country where we arrange marriages. So, Athens was the case where the bride and the groom were meeting for the first time. They were sort of scoping each other out. And, my understanding is that after scoping each other out, they’ve come to a conclusion it’s worth meeting again in the same sort of format.

So, maybe the next time they will go a little further than just scoping each other out. Maybe they’ll start holding hands actually. But let’s see.

So, I think, basically, in that sense, we have moved forward.  And, there is a general understanding now that the next four sessions will be organized more or less in the same structure or format.

There are many other questions about logistics and organization which are mentioned and I am not going to comment on, because I think all of them are valid issues which we have to take on board, and in many ways, Markus, in his opening remarks, had tried to cover a lot of this.  Additional ones, which had come up in the course of our discussions.  And, I think these are all valid and we should try and see how we can take care of these.

I really wanted to focus on a few issues which will require a discussion at a more policy — or political level by the people who will be responsible for organizing future fora.
Not all of them will get resolved in the context of Rio, and maybe some of them will only get resolved over time.

But, I do believe it’s worth putting down on record, some of these issues.

First, about questions related to participation. I suppose the most important issue that has been raised here is what we do to ensure adequate and good participation from all stakeholders in developing countries. This is, in some ways, a key issue which has been raised.

I think it’s partly a question — two questions, in my view, in this.

First is the extent to which there is an appreciation of these issues at policy-making levels in developing countries.  In how in many developing countries there is a process internally which is trying to focus on some of these issues, discuss some of these issues.  Because it seems to me, unless people are interested, they’re not going to come.  And if they come, they will come as strangers, as people who are there for a tour, but not necessarily as people who can be active participants.

So one, I think we have to address this issue of how do we generate a debate on these questions at the country level.

And, the second issue is clearly that of resources.  And, this is something which I would urge that we, as a particularly those who normally support these activities, the donor countries and the others should start looking at.

To some extent, as far as Athens was unknown, people did not know what it was going to be like.  And perhaps for that reason, maybe there wasn’t as much support from the donor community as we would have liked to see.  I expect that this will change.
With the general perception that this forum is working and has a valuable role in the process of Internet governance, I suspect interest will rise.

My urge here is that there would be certain coherence in this.  Because this is a very open forum, there is no centralization in this process.  But at the same time, if half a dozen different initiatives get launched to raise money for bringing people from developing countries, we might start getting an unnecessary sort of confusion and perhaps even an unnecessary competition.

So, one of the requests I would make to all those who would wish to involve themselves in this type of activity, and I’m sure the people who are there at the donor end, both in governments as well as in the
Internet community and in the private sector, would welcome this type of coherence so that you know what this is for, what that is for, what that particular initiative is for.

And, I believe that one of the issues that I would rise as a policy question is how we ensure a measure of coherence in these types of efforts to increase developing country participation without creating an unnecessary centralization.  I have no easy answer.  I’m flagging this as an issue which I hope that the Advisory Group, which will be charged with the responsibility of organizing future fora, will start addressing, perhaps immediately for the New York conference itself.

The second big issue on participation which has come up very strongly yesterday and today is that of remote participation.  If we are talking of Internet governance, if you do not use the capacities of the Internet to allow people to connect and interact with one another, then, in a sense, we are failing in our duty.

So many people have referred to this.  A lot of people have also said that please keep in mind the enormous variation in the infrastructure available for remote participation in different parts of the world.
I would add one.  Since I will be in Asia and the forum is in Brazil, please keep time differences in mind, also, so that somebody did mention the possibility of asynchronous participation in the process.
I think what arises from this is the need for variety.

Already, yesterday in the Advisory Group, some of the people who are more knowledgeable on these matters have decided to come together in a loose, informal coalition to see how this can best be worked up in time for the Rio conference so that we do have effective ways of remote participation.  And, remote participation in many different ways. Not everything dependent on sort of large bandwidth video communication, but also something which can be used in places which do not have that capacity.

I would certainly say that this is an important area.  If we can make a breakthrough in Rio, that would be wonderful to show that we can run a global conference which is not limited to the thousand or 2,000 people who can get to Rio, but is able to engage perhaps 10, 20 times, even 100 times as many people in different parts of the world.

And that, I think, would be a huge contribution.

So, I would certainly say that this is probably not a policy issue.  I’m not sure.  I don’t think anybody would object to effective ways of remote participation.  I don’t think there would be any objection to this.  It’s largely a matter of getting people to work together.

There may be other issues on participation, but these two to me seem to be the ones which have been mentioned by the largest number of people, and they do require some action and time for the Rio conference.

There has been a certain amount of discussion on outcomes.  There was a sense that, yes, it was fine to have Athens as a meeting which was a familiarization meeting, where people got to know what the issues were, where people understood where that particular question was coming from on that particular issue.  There was, if you like, a certain amount of education, awareness-raising that took place.  But I also appreciate the sentiment which many people have voiced.  You can’t carry on for five years just doing education and awareness.  That something has to emerge out of this process of dialogue.

This is not a negotiating process.  It definitely is not an executive process.  It’s not even a negotiating process.

But it must have a structure, a format and an outcome, if you like, which is capable of influencing things which can lead to real results at the ground level.

In a sense, we have made a beginning there, in Athens.  The dynamic coalitions are not a negotiated outcome.  They are voluntary coalitions that are dynamic because presumably the membership of the coalitions is very open, can vary, and maybe vary even with the issue that is being looked at by the coalition.  And I’m told it’s also dynamic to emphasize the fact that it must move and lead to results.

And so maybe — well, I’m sure nobody would — the concept of calling something a static coalition wouldn’t make sense, I suppose. Mind you, I would love to have static coalitions in my country in the political sphere, but that’s a different matter.

So this dynamic coalition is one type of product which has come.

But, there are other things which people probably look for.  And one essential question which I hope in future we start looking at is, what is the outcome of this meeting?

Now, one, as somebody mentioned, quite a few people have mentioned, we of course have the verbatim record.  And hopefully, with the two are helping us, we will always have a verbatim record of these meetings.  So, that is the record which is available to everybody.

Of course it’s — how shall I put it? — A labor of love to go through that record.  If somebody is enthusiastic and wants to read transcripts of some — how many hours?  Something in the region of 16 — 15, 16 hours of speech making, talking and discussion, they could do so.

So, we may have to do a little bit more to direct people in the right way, because saying that there’s 15 hours of transcript is, I’m not sure enough.

Perhaps somebody can take on the responsibility of annotating the transcripts.

Suppose you are interested in the issue of multilingualism.  Where are the places you should look at in the transcript?  So you don’t have to go through 15 hours.

You have pointers which point in that direction.

Now, I think these are things which we would have to start looking at.

I don’t think it’s possible for the Secretariat to do it.  It’s overstretched.  But I’m sure, now that the transcript is publicly available, there should be enough capacity in the academic community which is present in this process, and the others who are present in this process, to start doing this.

We have a Secretariat summary of this.  And of course everybody can verify the accuracy of the summary against the transcript.

But so far, we haven’t had a problem.  Markus’s balanced summaries have been generally appreciated by everybody and seen as a fair record, and something which if you don’t want to go through 15 hours, that is available, which can be looked at.

Is it possible to go beyond this?  Please remember that the IGF is not a membership body.  So we cannot have a formal process of approval of anything.  Who is to approve?  The people physically present there?  But that may vary in the course of the two, three days of the meeting.  What of other people who are participating remotely?

So the concept of a body which approves is almost alien to the IGF.

So, before we move down that track, we have to start addressing the question as to what exactly do we mean our goals, what do we want out of this process.

But I am raising this as a policy question because many people here are raised this.  And I think this is something we have to address as we go down the road.

Somebody asked why is the Secretariat’s report called “informal”?  Well, the reason it was called informal is because there was no formal process of approval of that report.

And so I suppose instead of calling it informal report, we could have called it Secretariat report, but it’s all very appropriate terminology.  But whatever, we can certainly revisit the titles that we give to these
things.

But the reason for calling it informal was to make it clear this is not an approved — record approved by anybody.

It’s our take on what is available to everybody in the verbatim transcripts.  If they think we are wrong, no problem.  There’s a verbatim transcript.  You make your own summary.  There’s no difficulty
in your doing that.

The third broad set of issues that has been raised is on themes.  Where again I believe a certain amount of political thinking, discussion will be required in the future processes which deal with this.

One of the things which I think we can probably try and handle quickly is the whole idea of a multi-year program of work.  So that people have a sense that over these remaining four years of the forum, we are going to cover all of the things that are mentioned in the paragraph 72, which people have referred to again and again.

There is certainly something that can be done, but I would urge that if we don’t freeze the agenda too rigidly, because this is a very rapidly evolving medium.  If we tried to set the agenda for the 2006 meeting in 2002, we probably would have gotten it wrong because the thing evolved so much between 2002 and 2006.

So, I would urge for the people who will be responsible for handling all of these five years, over these five years, yes, by all means look ahead.  But don’t try and be over rigid because these things keep changing and evolving.

There are more specific questions of policy, but many people have raised these questions.  There was on whether or not the whole question of Internet core resources are something which is — can be discussed here.

Now, do remember, it cannot be negotiated because this is not a negotiating forum.  But to the best of my understanding, it’s not off the table.  Anything which is to do with Internet governance is — it’s
a matter of decision.  People have to decide whether it is valuable to talk about this.  There is nothing which is off the table.

I apologize to the gentleman, who complained about being censored, but I would certainly look at the verbatim transcript, and it was never the intention to censor anything in this proper.  But the decision has to be made as to how and in what form.

There are some interesting suggestions which come from Brazil on this matter, and which perhaps could be pursued by people who are responsible for these things in the future.

One issue which has come up consistently is people wanting to emphasize — well, I could — two things together.  One is the development approach, and the other is the focus on users.

This is something which has come up very frequently in people’s remarks and comments.

I think it’s important we reflect the development approach in our discussions on Internet governance.

But we should also be careful that we do not end up duplicating the work on ICT for development which is being done in the WSIS follow-up.

The WSIS follow-up is a very thick process with a lot of things happening, and I would urge that we do not sort of stray into areas like e-education or e-health which are being dealt with very thoroughly in the context of the WSIS follow-up, for instance.

Yet, this question has been raised again and again, and there are certainly aspects of what we are dealing with, like interconnection costs, which has a developmental dimension which clearly belong to the area of governance rather than elsewhere.  It is possible it may be discussed in the ITU, but it is an issue of Internet governance.

But I would urge that we spell out a little more fully what exactly we mean by the development that I mentioned.

We have a beginning in the work which was done for the Working Group on Internet Governance in the section which deals with that developmental dimension and which did focus on governance issues rather than everything to do with development.  And of course they also focused on issues of capacity building and human resource development.

The focus on user interest to ensure that orientation of this forum is such that the lay user, like me, I am a lay user of the Internet, would feel that, yes, these people are talking about things which concern me.  And, this is not just a forum of specialists in the Internet who are handling this.  And I think this is a useful thought.

My own sense is, to some extent, this did happen in Athens.

I was quite struck by Vint Cerf’s remark that he felt that the people he was talking to were different from the people he normally talked to when he went to an IETF meeting or an ICANN meeting or a meeting where the people who participated were people who were involved in the design, development, or management of the Internet infrastructure.

That he felt that he was talking to something which was much broader, much wider.  And I certainly got the feeling that the overall tone of the meeting there was that it was a user-oriented meeting rather than a specialist-oriented meeting.

But we can try and do more. And here I want to plant a thought.

Yesterday, in the Advisory Group when we were talking about this, one thought which came up was that in order to provide a certain, if you like, basis for the discussions in the meeting, now that we have started the forum, perhaps in future, every year, we should have a report on what’s happened to the Internet over the previous year.  Issues that have cropped up apart from purely statistical issues about how it has grown, this and that.  All of that stuff is readily available, but other questions which have come up.

For instance, this year, I would expect the report to deal with something like what happened when the Internet in East Asia went down with the earthquake which took place there.  What was the response?  How well did it work?  The reasonable cooperation, etcetera. And, issues of that nature, other issues which may come up.

Now, in that context, I thought perhaps, arising from this, could we contemplate a profile, if you like, of Internet users?  Who are they?  What do they use this Internet for?  What do they perceive as problems?

I was very interested in something which Raul Echeberria told us about yesterday, the survey that was done in Latin America of Internet users which gave us a sense of what they consider important and maybe we should do that.  Maybe we should do that on a larger scale and see what people feel is their concern, and do it by a proper survey.

And I think this is feasible and possible. I don’t think this is going to be such a difficult or complex exercise.  But I do accept this concern, and I think this may be the value addition that we may get from the IGF, is strong focus on the user interest.

There’s also been a great deal of discussion of national-level issues, the feeling that you really have to see whether as part of your exchange of knowledge, exchange of experiences, capacity building, you do focus on what is it that countries can take away from a meeting like this and what they need to do at the national level for more effective management of the Internet at the national level from a public policy perspective.

I think this is a valuable focus.  It may not have taken place on a sufficient scale in Athens, and I’m sure we can do much more on this in future forums. This is also an area which I believe the government delegates would find particularly interesting.

And in this context, there’s a great deal of reference to the notion of doing much more systematic work on best practices.

I may incidentally mention, I have had a long prejudice against the term best practices.  It’s highly arrogant.  I always preferred the term “good practice,” but I’ve given up.  I’ve lost.  It’s called best practice the world over, and I suppose we’ll stick to that term, “best practice.”
But the only thing I would urge is, we must try and be focused.

If you simply do a generalized zed discussion on best practices, what you will end up with is a lot of propaganda, a lot of beauty show stuff.   People coming up saying what a wonderful job we are doing on this, this, this.
Focus it on something, maybe on access as an issue.  Why is it that in my country, India, I am paying only $10 a month for an always-on 512K connection whereas in many other developing countries people are paying $30. I actually don’t know the answer, but I would like to probe this, as to how did they bring it down to this level?  What was the modality, mechanism, et cetera?

So in that focused sense, I hope that we can have very good discussions on best practice, and this may be one of the things which could be a valuable take-away from this meeting.

I think there have been many other — one important issue that has arisen is that the IGF should not be isolated from the other things which are happening on WSIS follow-up.  And I think we will certainly
have to address the issue of the connection between IGF and see the other mechanisms which are in place for the follow-up of the world summit on information.  I don’t think the IGF can decide this.  This
will probably have to be decided by the apex body which is setting up all of these things, and I suspect that this is an item which will be on the agenda of these apex bodies when they meet this May and June.

But the extent to which the IGF — presumably the IGF Advisory Group really, has a view on this, it should articulate that view and communicate it soon to the higher body.  In this particular case, it would be the economic and social council.

I think there are many other issues that I would say have been raised. As I said, I’m not trying to cover everything.  I tried to mention in my closing remarks issues which I feel are not just issues which I can remit to the secretary-general as things which he can do under his authority.  A lot of organizational and logistical issues are things which can be done under his authority.  Saying yes, we will organize this differently.

But these are issues which are more of a political or policy nature which I think need to be discussed by the political processes which guide the IGF.

This is my take on our discussions.  This is more or less — this, plus the summary which will be prepared now on the basis of this verbatim record, will be the basis on which Mr. Kummer and I will communicate the sense of the meetings, yesterday’s and todays meetings to the secretary-general.  And we will also communicate to the secretary-general one message which has come from all of you, and that
is that we need to take decisions on the modalities for the organization of the Rio meeting fast.  Because we need all the time that is available in order to ensure that this is — in fact, that the preparations are effective and that we can deliver the high expectations that have now been aroused by the generally perceived success of the Athens meeting.

I would say that I think the further discussions that we have had have been very valuable.

I think the — Let me explain this question about bureau, et cetera, which people keep coming up with.

It was discussed a year ago, but the term “bureau” was not used either for Secretariat or for the Advisory Group because the word “bureau” has a very precise meaning in the U.N. system.

And it’s for that reason it was felt that we should avoid using the word “bureau.”  You can call anything a bureau if you want.

I think the important thing is transparency, and most important of all, to preserve this openness of the decision-making processes that people know why something is being done and what is being done so there’s a full sense of engagement.

Again, I think several people have been mentioning the idea about the making sure about the issues.

As I said, I don’t think there’s anything in the mandate which precludes any issue from being discussed in the IGF.

But I would urge one thing.  If the IGF is to discuss controversial issues, it should discuss them within a framework of a debate of good faith.  And the sense of a debate of good faith is you must be prepared to be convinced by the other person.

It’s not a debate of good faith if you are just going to come there and knowing that you intend to disagree with the other person and, therefore, are not even willing to listen to what the other person is going to say.

The essence of a debate of good faith is the willingness to go into debate ready to be persuaded that you are wrong.  Not going into debate in order to persuade the other person that they are wrong.

If we can preserve this, if we can preserve this sense of a forum where people can talk openly, freely, and in good faith in the philosophical sense good faith, the way I was talking, then I think there’s absolutely nothing which cannot be discussed fruitfully in the IGF.

Now, if we don’t have that, it still does not preclude that we discuss controversial issues.  All that will happen is it will not be very fruitful discussion.  If we all state known positions and walk away feeling happy that we have stated our known positions.  And well, fine, if that helps you, that helps, but it’s very unlikely to help.

The IGF can help when there is an attempt at trying to find common ground, an attempt at understanding which can then be taken up somewhere else.

It’s useful also in identifying issues which are not being addressed elsewhere and which need to be picked up, and where, if you like, early work can be done in the IGF.

There are open questions which have come up about outcomes, et cetera, and there is language in paragraph 72 which talks of recommendations as appropriate, and we still do not have a process for figuring out how to get to those recommendations.  But these are things which will evolve.

A year ago when we started, everything was up in the air.  Now at least we have gotten one point, which is this basic structure after multistakeholder process is something that has been agreed.

We have some issues as to how we manage this multistakeholder process. We will learn as we go along, and perhaps it will keep evolving as we proceed from meeting to meeting.

So I just wanted to conclude by thanking all of you.  You have been most helpful.

I certainly have learned a lot listening to all of you in terms of what I would wish to convey to the — well, the only thing, final thing I wanted to mention was I do not know what decisions will be taken by the Secretary-General on the future arrangements for the organization of these meetings.  And it would be presumptuous of me to assume anything.
But I will make that presumption, and on the presumption that he continues with the present modalities, there is a thought that there would be a meeting around the same time as the meeting mentioned by Charles Geiger which is in May on the 23rd of May.  I just want to mention that now in the case of those of you who have to juggle schedules; you can start juggling your schedules now.  But as I said, there are no presumptions here because we still have to wait and see what are the particular decisions that will be taken by the secretary-general to discharge the responsibilities which have been given to him under the Tunis decisions.  And I cannot, at this point, make any firm commitment on what those — those positions would be.

But assuming that they are the present firm, and then 23rd May is the date that is being considered here.

So, thank you very much.  You all have been very helpful and very good, so you have one hour off from the time that we had assigned to us.