Govts, techies convene in Sinai

Sharm el-Sheikh–The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) opened on 15 November in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, bringing to the fore continuing discussions on equality of access, openness of content, and security. 

The IGF is the offshoot of the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, which formally requested the United Nations’ secretary general to convene a multi-stakeholder meeting to discuss issues pertaining to the Internet. “[The IGF] is unlike a traditional UN meeting, which is essentially intergovernmental. Here it is a meeting where all stakeholders, governments, private sector, civil society, technical community, international organizations, intergovernmental organizations, all sit down as equals in the room to discuss matters related to Internet governance,” said Markus Kummer, the executive coordinator of the IGF. 

At its fourth convention, the IGF continued to tackle issues of access, diversity, openness, security and resources. While not a decision-making body per se, those working at the IGF maintain that it has the ability to reshape national and international policies regarding the Internet. “It doesn’t have the power of redistribution, but it may have the power of recognition. It can recognize issues. It can put them on the agenda of international cooperation,” Kummer said. 

Following its first meeting in Athens, Greece, IGF subsequently met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and following that, Hyderabad, India. 

Introducing the forum, Tim Burners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and so-called father of the Internet, focused on the need for a community convention to venture into understanding the Web. “We need to study the Web. We don’t really understand its complexity,” he said. “The Web has, I’m told, ten to the power of eleven Web pages. That’s ten with eleven zeros. That’s about the same number of Web pages out there as there are nerve cells in my brain. The trouble is, the number of nerve cells in my brain is going down and the number of Web pages out there is constantly going up.” 

Burners-Lee also announced the launch of the World Wide Web Foundation, which will be another venue to host different Internet governance stakeholders and to encourage debate. 
This year’s host country, Egypt, opened the forum by referencing its achievements as regards accessibility and openness in Internet use. “The development of the Internet in Egypt has also evolved, from gradually being led by a group of pioneers in the early 1990s, to an overall national agenda only a couple of years later,” said the communication and information technology minister, Tarek Kamel. 

According to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, Egypt’s national agenda consists of three pillars. The first is the creation of an institutional framework to govern the information and communication technology sector, as manifested in the communication and information technology ministry, the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority and the Information Technology Industry Development Authority. The second pillar is the creation of an ICT industry through attracting private sector players from both the domestic and international arenas.  The third pillar, according to Nazif, is the social dissemination of ICT services.  “The ICT sector in Egypt kept its growth curve during the year of the [financial] crisis at a double-digit rate,” said Nazif. 

The content of the forum workshops covered issues of Internet resources, openness, privacy, access and diversity, alongside more concrete presentations on local, regional and international initiatives. Themes of social networks, freedom of expression, human rights, copyright, online child safety, access for the disabled, and environmentally-friendly connectivity were frequently brought up topics. 

At its inception in Tunisia in 2005, the IGF was given a provisional life span of five years. With this span nearing an end and the Sharm el-Sheikh forum constituting its fourth round, there will be consultation as to whether the IGF’s mandate should be continued.  

According to the International Telecommunication Union, about a quarter of the world’s population has online access. By 2009, 17.5 per cent of the developing world’s population was online.

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