Internet self-administration forum faces scrutiny
At the preparatory summit for the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Berlin, representatives from governments, business, and civil society stepped forward in defence of preserving the platform for global debate about internet policy decisions. The problems of internet administration and issuing top level domains (TLDs) "can no longer be solved with the existing UN systems," underscored Peter Voss, head of the international internet policy division at the German Ministry of Commerce, at the conference on Tuesday. He explained that the IGF functioned as a placeholder between the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which concentrates on standardisation, and the domain administration body, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Voss felt that this middle ground was the only appropriate place to discuss alternatives to American pre-eminence in internet regulation.
At the last ICANN meeting in Cairo, ITU General Secretary Hamadoun Touré dismissed the IGF as a kind of expensive international venue for talking shop, since the body cannot make any decisions. Michael Niebel, head of a unit in the EU Commission's Information Society Directorate-General admitted that the body does "not draw any conclusions". However, many areas are debated that are otherwise not discussed anywhere on a global scale. These discussions can then be revisited in policy-making organisations, according to Niebel. Also, the IGF is well suited to discovering and further developing certain common values.
Niebel cautioned against viewing the IGF as a white elephant, pointing out that, in addition to serving as a forum, the organisation is intended to strengthen inter-governmental cooperation. The commission representative thought it a shame that this parallel mandate, however, fell victim to "rampant interpretation" about the body's responsibilities and reach. He advocated creating out of the outline of the cooperation model, a body for making binding decisions between equal states.
Philipp Grabensee, chairman of the board of domain company Afilias, also considers the IGF as an important pivot point. While he thought that IGF debates could be static and implementing consensus decisions could be drawn out, "it is the right forum for discussing self administration mechanisms." Harald Summa, Head of the German ISP and Internet Association eco, characterised the forum, also known as the "Davos of the internet", as necessary to, "maintain the integrity of the self-regulation system". On the other hand, he felt that the German system of controlled self-regulation, designed to protect minors, was a half-baked approach, "We can achieve significantly more with self-monitoring alone."
ICANN At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) member Annette Mühlberg welcomed the prospect that the discussions at IGF would put all of the interest groups on an equal footing. Governments, according to Mühlberg, have learned that they can no longer afford to slam the door on all the expertise in civil society. The e-government expert for trade union Ver.di found it even more regrettable that inclusion of all of the stakeholders at the national IT summit sponsored by the German government still had not been achieved. Sabine Dolderer, the general manager of Denic, which is responsible the .de domain, added that at the IGF topics such as privacy, the digital divide, spam, cyber crime and identity management would be discussed for the first time ever in a world-wide platform.
At the same time, ICANN was not spared any criticism. Grabensee characterised the administrative body's goal of promoting more competitiveness and a broader market for domain administration as, "only a limited success". Dolderer posed the question of whether the California organisation had overstepped its mandate and whether it had attempted nationally to contractually establish unsustainable liability issues. Mühlberg took issue with ICANN's announcement that it wanted charge $185,000 to register new TLDs. How the non-profit organisation planned to use this income for the public good was completely up in the air, she pointed out. Niebel wondered aloud whether even cities that planned to use their own names as address zones would also have to pay the annual administration fee of $75,000.