Posted on 21/Dec/2016
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The 10-year extension of the IGF mandate is a testament to the IGF’s significant evolution over the past decade as the leading global forum for dialogue on Internet governance issues. What’s next?

As the Internet continues to evolve at breakneck speed, many critical issues still need to be addressed. A major area is Internet governance. This broad realm encompasses both governance of the Internet (essentially the business of ICANN and other technical organizations) and governance on the Internet (a range of issues affecting services and content, such as privacy and cybersecurity).

Last year, the U.N. General Assembly approved the renewal of the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) for another 10 years. Born in Tunis at the end of the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the IGF has evolved to serve as the leading global forum for dialogue on Internet governance issues. Since the first forum in 2016, the IGF has been an annual event.

The IGF now gathers a growing number of experts from academia, civil society, governments, industry and the technical community. Traditional topics of Internet governance involve setting rules, standards, policies and providing technical support so that the world can be connected on the global Internet. Going beyond the technical issues, the IGF also deals with complex social, economic and transnational issues related to the use of the Internet.

Getting to where we are today has been both a challenging and rewarding journey that is still in progress.

The IGF has gone through times of skepticism about both its continued existence and its ability to fulfill its mandate. Over time, the IGF has gradually expanded beyond its narrow circle as a “discussion only” forum to include processes that can produce tangible and useful outcomes, seen in the Best Practices Forums (BPF) and the Dynamic Coalitions. The 10-year extension of the IGF mandate is a testament to the IGF’s significant evolution over the past decade.

Earlier this month, over 2000 participants from 83 countries came together in Guadalajara, Mexico, with hundreds more participating remotely, to attend the 11th IGF meeting, the first since the mandate’s renewal.

As in previous years, ICANN’s Board directors, community leaders and senior staff attended the IGF. But unlike past years, the role of ICANN and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions did not take center stage in Guadalajara.

This is thanks to the Internet community that worked hard over the past few years to finalize the transition of the U.S. Government’s stewardship of the IANA functions to the global multistakeholder community. Instead, this year’s debate was focused on lessons learned from the IANA transition as a recent and successful example of a multistakeholder process in action.

With over 200 sessions, the 2016 IGF agenda covered the standard topics of Internet governance such as access, diversity, privacy and cybersecurity; plus more current issues related to online trade, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Links between SDGs, Internet governance and the IGF figured strongly on the agenda, with a main session and several other workshops organized on this topic. A common sentiment this year was that the IGF should focus more on the SDGs; a stance that was conveyed clearly during the “Taking Stock” session on the last day.

ICANN’s participation at IGF 2016 was led by CEO Göran Marby and Board Chair Stephen Crocker. Primary objectives were to emphasize the successful IANA stewardship transition as an example of how ICANN’s multistakeholder processes work, and to encourage participation in the ongoing work of ICANN’s Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees.

ICANN’s goals are to continue supporting the multistakeholder model in Internet governance and contributing to global policy discourse with all interested parties – activities that are within ICANN’s mission and scope.

On the day before the event, ICANN organized a town hall session to reflect on the evolution of ICANN’s multistakeholder processes using the IANA stewardship transition as a case study. Presenters sought views from participants on their experiences with ICANN and how they envisage the challenges ahead.

In addition, ICANN community and organization staff planned and conducted workshops and roundtable discussions on a variety of topics such as the IANA transition, the new generic top-level domain (gTLD) Program, the role of noncommercial users in ICANN, law enforcement in the online world, and Asia and the next billion Internet users.

So, what’s next?

Geneva will host the 2017 IGF next December, and already discussions about strategic focus are underway. Holding the event in Geneva, the second home of the U.N. and to 192 government missions, may boost the participation of governments from developing countries and of non-U.S. businesses, both issues at Guadalajara.

The IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) will meet early in the new year to determine the focus for the 2017 IGF. At the top of the agenda will be how to deal with the call made by many in Guadalajara for more attention to meeting the targets of the SDGs. No doubt, the MAG may want to concentrate on other issues like human rights and global trade accords.

After all, the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) is based there. Once the focus is set, preparatory work can begin for the Geneva IGF.

All in all, 2017 will be an interesting year in furthering key goals in Internet governance.


Picture credits: kvitlauk
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