IGF in a time of change: time for a new deal?

21 June 2011 Author: EIFonline

The Internet Governance Forum (Nairobi, 27-30 September) has been named: “Internet as a catalyst for change: access, development and innovation”. The IGF comes at a time where the Internet is more rapidly than ever changing our lives deeper than ever before.

The challenge for the IGF is that it has to respond in an adequate way and still maintain its multi-stakeholder platform approach. The EIF dinner debate about the IGF asked the burning question: will IGF succeed in doing this in the next five years?

Internet Governance still has a very narrow policy footprint today but times are changing in this respect. Much of the power of the IGF is that it has no decision making power as such, which ensures that all stakeholders can and want to be a part of it. The EU sees the IGF as a success to date, but now, in 2011 we need a New Deal.

The world has changed, there has been crisis in global government, and in almost any possible policy area imaginable (think about trade, migration, etc.). The IGF is now interwoven in the overall policy context and the Internet has reached the top of the global political agendas. The web has become a critical infrastructure element.

At the same time the web consumer has changed. The web is no longer for libertarians alone, there are over 2 billion ‘real’ consumers out there that use the web as part of their everyday lives, from online shopping to socializing, or watching tv on the web. The power of the user has increased tremendously and consumers today voice their concerns via Twitter, Facebook or any other means they have at their online disposal. Politicians, in return, listen more frequently and more closely to what they have to say.

If, however, the IGF does not fill the gap on the governing of the Internet and its related issues then the UN or the G20 or the G8 will step into that gap to fill the policy vacuum. And this might “dilute” the inclusiveness and multi-stakeholder element of the IGF. One of the challenges for IGF is that governments need to secure the buy-in from the population to give the process legitimacy. Both civil society and the industry have added positively to the debate and have contributed to a better general understanding of many issues around Internet Governance. The active participation of all stakeholders will be key in “shaping the future agenda on internet governance”.

The last five years of IGF have demonstrated that that issues that are not handled by any other institution get handled within the IGF. IGF can be seen to have a positive impact on governments globally. All stakeholder recognize that the discussions in IGF now are more mature and that there is a better understanding among stakeholders. And last but not least national, international, regional and local levels are becoming more connected.

In summary: IGF provides stability, it has become more mature, and there is more trust, but at the same time there is much more to do!


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