The really important part of the World Conference on IT (WCIT) is not the internet battles that have caught the interest of the press — it is what will happen after the conference has ended.
Membership of WCIT is on a per-country basis and currently 193 countries will be participating in this international event. Each country is free to make up its own delegation and these delegations can therefore represent a large variety of social, economic, business, legal, technical and other interests — as large and as wide as each country decides its delegation will be. The responsibility for organising the WCIT rests with the ITU, which is the oldest UN organisation (1865).
The current media frenzy about the internet, and the false rumours that the UN or any other organisation is going to take over its governance is just that — a media beat-up.
As in any international meeting, countries are welcome to bring their plans, proposals, opinions and views to the conference and to take the opportunity to present these to the international audience. However proposals from the USA, or Russia, or China, or the European countries, or the Arab countries are not automatically accepted simply because they are presented at the conference. That is not the case in any international conference — and certainly not at the WCIT, which has a reputation for consensus-building.
The media frenzy seems to be based on the incorrect assumption that any of the proposals that have been circulated or rumoured could be, or even will be, accepted. It is true that some of these proposals and rumours contain elements that will be unacceptable to other members of the international communities, and vested interests involved in the debate have used the well-known FUD strategy (spread fear, uncertainty and doubt) to fuel the media frenzy.
On the positive side, the interest in WCIT has now moved well beyond the traditional ICT industry. It has gained an enormous amount of attention and has brought the internet governance issue to the notice of mainstream society. This, of course, is a positive development and it also indicates how important the internet has become for everybody, with non-technical people starting to take a serious interest in its future.
One of the problems of the internet has been that while it has been growing into that wider context the governing bodies have not kept up with the growth of these wider interests and concerns, and there is now a range of social and economic issues, as well as the technical issues that need to be addressed. In the current debate, however, all these issues have been thrown into one pool.
Like it or not, this debate has brought a large number of important issues to the fore and they will need to be confronted. What the WCIT has to do upfront is untangle the various issues and clearly separate them from each other. The next step will then be to clearly define what can be solved on a national level and what needs to be addressed internationally — and, if there are issues that need international attention, who are the best parties to address those issues.
The most important issue at the WCIT will be how the international community will manage the current debate so as to move towards a manageable future.
Most likely what this will mean is that the various international stakeholders will have to create a (new) platform that can be used to address these issues, and existing internet bodies such as ICANN, ISOC and IGF, as well as the UN and some of its organisations such as the ITU and others of course, will all need to be part of this.
The internet is there for all. It is an enormous social and economic enabler and should be used to advance our global society. It clearly has the potential to do this and it is the responsibility of all involved to make that happen. WCIT 12 has the enormous opportunity, as a representation of global society, to play a leadership role in guiding the future of the internet for the benefit of all.
The new platform that should be the result of this needs to be truly international, independent; and it needs to be well-funded, so that it can properly address the issues at hand.
It is, therefore, most unlikely that — apart from some of the purely technical matters — any of the more contentious issues that are being addressed in the press will be solved at WCIT. Nor should that be the case, because WCIT is probably the wrong place to address these issues. Nevertheless WCIT can be the catalyst and the facilitator to kick-start the process.
P.S. I will be participating in WCIT12 and will report back to you on its progress.
Related topics: Internet Governance
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