Are we ready for this year’s IGF meeting?

The biggest meeting on Internet Governance, the Internet Governance Forum, will be held next week. Is the Caribbean ready to participate?

The 6th annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is finally here. It will be held from Tuesday 27 September to Friday 30 September in Nairobi, Kenya, under the theme,

“Internet as a catalyst for change: access, development, freedoms and innovation”.

About the IGF

The IGF was established in 2006 to support the Secretary General of the United Nations in addressing Internet Governance (IG) issues. The Forum provides a setting for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue on all matters related to overseeing the development and use of the Internet. Its responsibilities include:

  • discussing public policy issues related to key elements of IG
  • facilitating discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies
  • facilitating comprehensive exchange of information and best practices
  • advising all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world
  • strengthening and enhancing the engagement of stakeholders, particularly those from developing countries
  • identifying and highlighting emerging issues, and where appropriate, making recommendations (Source: IGF).

The IGF annual meeting is the premier event for discussing IG issues. Countries worldwide are represented, along with members of industry, academia, non-governmental organisations, interest groups, and even from the public at large. This year, extensive discussions will be held under the following six (6) themes:

  • Internet Governance for development
  • Emerging issues
  • Managing critical Internet resources
  • Security, openness and privacy
  • Access and diversity
  • Taking stock and the way forward.
Figure1: Text cloud showing the frequency of words found in the main session transcripts of all five IGF meetings from 2006-2010 (Source: IGF)

The Caribbean’s preparation for IGF

In anticipation of this meeting, participating countries, regions and interest groups have held discussions in order to determine their positions on key issues. For the Caribbean, our preparatory meeting, the Fourth Regional Latin America and the Caribbean Preparatory Meeting for the Internet Governance Forum, was convened from 9 to 11 August in Trinidad and Tobago. Some of the key findings and conclusions relevant to the region are summarised below (Source: Commonwealth IGF), but a fuller report is also available.

  • Infrastructure development is still needed to increase Internet access to the general public and especially to rural areas.
  • There should be clearly defined roles in the multi-stakeholder approach across a broad range of issues, but especially to develop infrastructure.
  • Internet Governance must accommodate the increasing use of mobile devices and the access they provide to the mobile Internet.
  • There must also be a drive for local application development while developing legislation to handle data and financial transactions.
  • Internet Governance cannot be at variance with human rights. The Internet can be used to educate the public of human rights regardless of the level of freedom and protection that is available in their country.
  • There must be a balance between security, openness and privacy.
  • Developing countries must become more actively involved in IG.

Will the region be represented in Kenya?

The short answer to that question is no. Although the Caribbean region was fairly well represented at the preparatory meeting, that is unlikely to be the case in Kenya, based on the provisional participants’ list that has been published.

One of the main deterrents in participating is the expense associated with travelling to such meetings. In these difficult economic times, in particular, priorities have had to be adjusted to fit limited budgets. In many respects,  IG is not yet a priority in the Caribbean, although critical aspects, such as cyber crime and security, along with matters related to electronic transactions, are being given considerable attention.  Furthermore, although conclusions and recommendations may be made at those meetings, typically, the outputs are not binding. The meetings are meant to allow a broad range of issues to be ventilated and hopefully for consensus to be reached, which could inform other meetings, especially those at the multilateral and diplomatic levels.

Nevertheless, a critical point made during the preparatory meeting was the limited capacity within the region to address IG matters, which would also influence the extent to which we can be involved in shaping the global conversation. Currently, developed countries are almost singlehandedly directing how IG is progressing, which in many respects, could be to the detriment of developing countries that typically have a number of unique circumtances that should be considered.

What are our  options?

While we all may not be able to travel to Kenya, there are number of ways to participate in the IGF discussions.

1.  Webcast. It is possible to watch a webcast of the event, and to follow real-time close captioning.  The details to access the webcast, which will be released in the coming days, can be found on the IGF website, remote participation

2.  Remote participation. A remote hub has been established at the offices of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union in Port of Spain, Trinidad. For more information, contact Nigel Cassimire. To establish a hub, or to find out about other remote hubs worldwide, the details can be found here.

3. Social media. The following social networking platforms can also be used to keep track of the discussions: