Business leaders warn against demise of Internet Governance Forum

  • 19 November 2009

Business leaders have issued a stark warning that the demise of the UN-linked Internet Governance Forum (IGF) could impede the ability of the Internet to drive economic growth and improve societal benefits.

The warning was addressed to delegates attending the closing ceremony of the 4th IGF meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh on Wednesday 18 November, by Herbert Heitmann, Chair of the International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) Commission on E-Business, IT and Telecoms, and Chief Communications Officer at SAP.

It comes ahead of next year’s five-year review of the IGF, which was set up as an open platform for businesses, governments, civil society and technical experts to discuss Internet policy issues such as privacy, security and access costs.

Convened under the aegis of the UN Secretary General, the IGF is the only forum where all entities – including business, governments, civil society and the technical community – can discuss the future of the Internet on an equal footing. This establishes an environment of open exchange, critical to informed policy-making that takes the views of all Internet users into consideration.

“The lack of multistakeholder involvement has often led to ill-informed decision making, resistance in society and suspicions among the different players,” said Heitmann.

“The Internet Governance Forum, as we know it today has fortunately prevented these shortfalls so far. It has helped to make the Internet a universally applauded, appreciated and heavily utilized medium globally. Business wants the IGF to be continued and strongly opposes changes to its founding principles.”

The IGF should continue to have the flexibility to continue to evolve to address the needs of all stakeholders, but it should do so respecting the founding principles.” he told the conference of over 1,500 people from around the world, who had spent the previous four days discussing a range of Internet issues, with a focus on boosting Internet inclusivity, especially for those in developing countries.

The importance of the IGF as a key driver for informed policy at local level was further backed by the findings of a Diplo Foundation survey of over 200 IGF participants, from 81 countries, commissioned by AT&T and distributed during the meet.

Results reveal that almost half  (47.28 %) of respondents found the knowledge gathered through the IGF to be practical enough for them to make a good start on policy development and implementation in their respective communities, while a further 15.48 percent found it to be immediately applicable.

Further data shows that 54 % of respondants claimed they communicated relevant knowledge from the IGF to members of their local community, and 23% communicated with representatives to their local administrations.

Dorothy Attwood, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Chief Privacy Officer at AT&T said: “By bringing together different stakeholder sectors, the IGF provides an appropriate, effective forum for addressing Internet governance issues. The IGF has an important role in the future of the Internet.”

The creation of regional and national IGF events and initiatives is also testament to the forum’s success at stimulating pro-competitive policy, while enabling the free flow of information, data protection, and security, added Art Reilly, Senior Director of Strategic Technology Policy at Cisco Systems.

“This one-of-a-kind environment of multistakeholder exchange helps us to find new understandings, common interests and opportunities. Because our focus has been on substantively exchanging experiences and views instead of negotiating text our time here has been put to good and practical use that can inform participant’s actions in the aftermath of the IGF,” he said.

BASIS brings business expertise to and encourages business participation in the IGF. Under the umbrella of BASIS, business engages with all stakeholders with the aim of spreading the benefits of the information society more widely across the world.