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Is the UN Assailing Internet Governance?

Gregory Francis

The coven of UN bodies with a hand in internet governance keeps getting bigger: not only is the General Assembly intending soon to decide the fate of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), but if the decision coming out of New York does not give them enough of a role, the UN has a back-up plan. In May of 2011, no less than four specialized UN agencies, UNESCO, UNCTAD, UNDP and (perhaps most legitimately) the ITU, are planning a Conference what will allow them to insert themselves still further into the matter.

They're Better At This Than You

If you thought it was safe for the Internet to return to auto-regulation, you now need to prepare for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2011. You may have thought that the two WSIS meetings in 2003 and 2005 were as much as the international community was going to do to talk through how the UN was going to manage internet governance issues. And indeed, according to the General Assembly there were to be only two such conferences. But the UN understands how to drive a process forward until it gets what it wants, and so has opted to hold a new WSIS "Forum."

What Will They Do?

The WSIS Forum is in the process of consulting on what to talk about. For those unfamiliar with multilateral bodies: that doesn't mean they won't be talking about anything much. It means that the agenda is open-ended, and that stakeholders can propose any subject they like: the merits of General Assembly oversight of Internet access; a UN veto over ICANN board decisions; a UN-brokered taxing or metering of internet traffic. These are not fantasy; they are all real proposals made by real UN Member States. It is therefore not enough for those who prefer a less active role for the UN to just do nothing. International meetings, like Nature, abhor vacuums, and if no affirmative suggestions are made about what the WSIS Forum should discuss, then the floor, in essence, will be open. To be clear: it is not enough to suggest that the WSIS Forum not talk about a subject. You must suggest something it should do instead.

Have Your Say

The Open Consultation on Thematic Aspects of the WSIS Forum 2011 (aka, What We Should Talk About) is accepting inputs from stakeholders now. It is not broadly advertised, but can be accessed here.

They may take the advice of stakeholders. They may not. But the more public suggestions there are, the harder it is for the WSIS Forum organizers to them to ignore. So those with an interest may wish to suggest that the Forum turn its attention to the theme of broadband access, or how countries can ensure more and better communications links, or what governments can do to enable a more competitive environment for telecommunications and content providers. Choose the one you like. And then say, without ambiguity, as the French government already has, that the WSIS Forum should not address internet governance, because that is the function of the IGF. At least, as long as the General Assembly lets it remain so. A point that also deserves thought and attention, while you're on the subject.

By Gregory Francis, Managing Director at Access Partnership

Related topics: Internet Governance

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