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May's G8 Summit Can Help or Hurt the Internet

Gregory Francis

The more useful the Internet becomes, the more people focus on how to run it. It is no secret that the subject is addressed in many forums today, some with powers to regulate, some with powers to persuade (and one or two with powers only to confuse). Worse, as Internet access becomes the star player in scenes of political reformation, economic growth, and delivery of citizen services, ever more countries are keen to consider how, and if, it should be governed.

More Forums, Less Clarity

Putting understatement aside: there are a dizzying number of groups addressing Internet Governance matters at present. In a way this is to be expected, since the issues are broad and pressing, ranging from preservation of name and numbering resources to copyright and child protection. At the very highest level, groups attending to these matters in 2011 number in the double digits, which in practice means there are already lots of places where calls can emerge for tightened access or over-managed governance. Adding to their number will not lend order to an already disorderly dialogue.

The Bark is the Bite

Creating additional forums is, however, exactly what governments of the G8 risk doing this May. It is indeed the point of these get-togethers to address key issues of the day, and matters Internet justly number among them. But when heads of state talk about something, the massive bureaucratic apparatus that supports each of them will, as a matter of course, follow up with consequential actions. Put another way, when the top dogs designate something as Worthy of Discussion, there tends to be follow-up barking.

A Certain Idea of France

In the lead-up to the G8 at the end of May, the French hosts have organized an e-G8 Forum where President Sarkozy is the keynote speaker. This will be both laudable and forsightful if, in conclusion, that meeting reinforces and revalidates existing forums for discussing governance matters. It must resist generating yet another group that meets regularly, under the aegis of governments both mighty and rich, to discuss how to run the Internet. That would send precisely the wrong message to stakeholders who believe themselves to be under-represented and would do the goals of France, the G8, and of the Internet Community, no good at all.

By Gregory Francis, Managing Director at Access Partnership
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