IGF: Moving forward or going around and around?

We are nearly an hour into the second day of discussions about the formation of the new Internet Governance Forum and so far it has been interesting to see what people made of the discussions yesterday.

At the same time though, old Internet hands have been muttering about having heard it all before at the very beginning of the WSIS process four years ago.

While many are doing down what the forum can and will do, there is another side of people getting gradually excited about the idea of an Internet forum – especially one that governments do not get too involved with. Plus what it might be able to do.

I had an interesting interview late yesterday with the chairman Nitin Desai – a wise old man who has seen it all before – and his general point was that the forum could become a very useful catalyst, that the very fact of its existence would mean that people work together to find solutions to problems. I'll do a podcast of it later and stick it up here.

But while the talk is interesting, are we moving forward or simply going round and round?

Most significant this morning was the arrival of the Pakistan Ambassador Masood Khan, who has alot of respect due to his masterful chairmanship of the Net governance issue during WSIS.

He was representing the G77 (actually the G132 – a traditional UN body of developing countries mostly from Africa and South and Latin America) as well as China and basically reiterated the “multi-stakeholder” mantra.

He also offered the intriguing phrase “balanced representation” in “any decision-making processes” – why I suspect is code for “governments to have more power in the forum”. If so, this is troublesome. Of course the wording is such that if a strong consensus is built around everyone having equal status, the self-same phrase can be used to demonstrate the G77's agreement.

Most significant was the suggestion that there be a second round of negotiations – possibly in April. This was a suggestion, but it has since turned into a virtual fact, specifically because Nitin Desai just said there would probably be a second meeting in a press conference.

So what will happen is: the basic layout of the Forum will be agreed today. But the more difficult aspects will be thrashed out in another meeting probably in April.

But to get back to my initial point – are we going forward or round and round? Both. We are going around and around the same subjects, saying the same things over and over again for no particular reason, but while everyone is rotating, the whole group is also moving forward.

The trouble is with everyone rotating, it's far from certain that anyone knows where we are going or where we will end up.

More later…