Survival of UN Internet forum key to growth and stability, say business leaders

  • 15 October 2009

Business leaders from around the world are calling on the United Nations to retain the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), saying it is a crucial component in global policy discussions to ensure continued Internet innovation and the required conditions to attract investment.

The IGF, which was set up three years ago as an open platform for businesses, governments, civil society, and technical and intergovernmental organizations to discuss Internet policy issues such as privacy, security and access costs, is under threat as its original 5-year mandate expires at the end of 2010.

Business Action to Support the Information Society (BASIS), an ICC initiative, has given its full support to the continuation of the forum and is actively involved in the upcoming IGF in Egypt in November.

Comprised of companies and associations from across sectors and geographies, BASIS believes that the IGF provides a unique opportunity for the generation of new partnerships, ideas, discussion of real experiences and challenges, and the sharing of best practices, which are all necessary for the successful development of Internet-related policies.

BASIS leaders point out that innovation in Internet and communication technologies is a central plank to many countries’ economic recovery plans.

“The Internet needs to continue to develop in an environment that encourages innovation that, in turn, will attract investment from the business community. The IGF allows for this innovation by bringing all the stakeholders together in an environment where they can openly exchange ideas,” said Herbert Heitmann, SAP Chief Global Communications Officer and Chair of the ICC Commission on E-Business, IT and Telecoms.

The fact that the IGF enables stakeholders to meet on equal footing to discuss Internet issues, rather than spending time negotiating texts of documents, is a strength, not a weakness, BASIS said.

“The reason the forum is successful is precisely because participants are exchanging ideas rather than negotiating the wording of policy texts,” said Art Reilly, Senior Director, Cisco Systems.

“This approach means leaders from all communities leave the IGF with insights and new perspectives to make an impact in our respective regional and local activities,” he added.

However, for the Internet to reach its full potential, action must be taken at country level to implement polices that encourage more people to access the Internet, while ensuring their privacy and security, according to BASIS.

Necessary policies include independent regulators, respect for the rule of law, intellectual property rights protection and enforcement, telecoms liberalization, pro-competitive frameworks, independent courts, promoting entrepreneurship, and the removal of administrative obstacles.

“An environment that enables development is the best way to promote innovation, attract investment and help build infrastructures necessary to improve access,” said Subramanian Ramadorai, Vice Chairman, Tata Consultancy Services and Chair of BASIS.

“Regulation should avoid hampering companies’ ability to compete, which slows innovation. Instead policies should encourage innovation and competition that are essential to developing an Internet that can reach the next billion users,” he concluded.

BASIS members have actively participated in the IGF since 2006 when it was first set up to facilitate the exchange of information and best practices in relation to accelerating the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world. The role of BASIS is to raise awareness of what business needs in order to continue contributing to the development of the information society, particularly through more informed policy choices.

This year’s annual IGF meeting will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on 15-18 November. Last year’s meeting in Hyderabad, India, attracted around 1,300 participants from more than 90 countries.