Markus Kummer, coordinator of the internet governance working group – Diplomacy at the cutting edge
By Maud Hand
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND, 01 April 2005
We’re multi-stake holder in that we have representatives who work for government, members who represent civil society, members from the private sector as well as academics who’d work more closely with civil society. We’ve also got regional registraries and members of the board of The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN). So it’s a mixed group but the essential characteristic is that they’re all in WGIG as equals unlike in WSIS where certain stakeholders clearly have a position that puts them at a lower level than government representatives.
How did you get this job?
I got it through the back-door. I was a member of the Swiss team during Phase 1 of the summit where I chaired a few negotiation groups and facilitated the more difficult parties dealing with the issue of internet governance. So I was given leave of absence from my civil servant position at the UN to concentrate on the forthcoming summit.
Given the controversial issues around internet governance and financing mechanisms of Phase 1, what are the chances in WGIG that they can take things forward with wider options for delegates to arrive at a consensus?
In Phase 1 we didn’t manage to go into the substance of the issues. It resulted in a shouting match. While statements of positions were presented, they were purely ideological. You had one side stating that internet governance is an issue solely for the private sector while others argued this was not legitimate.
With WGIG, we’ve making progress in the quality of the debate. There’s a higher level of information and sophistication. The old positions don’t go away but the way in which it’s being argued is more conducive to finding a common platform. And that’s essentially the primary aim of WGIG – to contribute to dialogue at a higher level of information.
What were the key issues that blocked a way forward in Phase 1?
There was a clash of two visions of what the world should look like. There was the traditional vision of international co-operation driven by governments and at the international level by inter-governmental organisations with governments still in the driving seat akin to how telecommunications were managed in the past. Then there’s the internet vision that this is a different medium which must be organised differently.
We had input from Dr. Kahn, one of the founders of the internet who recalled the history and urged that we can’t undo this history, rather we must live with it and take it into account. While the internet has developed independently of governments, now governments are interested given its sheer growth and the importance it has acquired.
So the challenge is to find a way to bring the governments into something which was developed by the private sector. We’ve progressed over the past year where those who felt the governments should be the predominant factor, now admit the need for multi-stakeholders while those who had no time for government input are now beginning to admit that there’s a role for government in certain areas.
But surely it was not solely the private sector who has developed the internet. Hasn’t civil society played a part?
It certainly has and despite all the criticisms of the present arrangements, civil society is happy about our methods of working. The internet has served civil society very well where its power as a networking tool has clearly been a vector in developing CS’s positions and strengths.
What’s palpable in WGIG is the way in which CS members of the group use the internet to communicate. Unlike government members who are more reluctant to send out emails and discussion lists, CS uses this very effectively and that’s been very refreshing in our discussions.
How are you finding WGIG process of working?
It’s working extremely well given that we’ve got 40 members with very different geographical and societal backgrounds. We’ve got internet practitioners, academia, government officials, private entrepreneurs. And it’s not just a case of each member re-stating their positions, rather they’re listening to one another and beginning to understand the other positions.
We started prudently gathering facts before making proposals for future actions. Some members wanted a more philosophical discussion on architectural principles to define Internet Governance. The danger there was that we’d fall back into re-stating the other positions. But we’ve actually developed a useful working guide. We’ve created a common understanding ather than the ultimate truth on how route servers should work. In the process, the group found working methods to facilitate their daily exchanges. That was a very positive and meaningful first step.
Do you believe you’ll reach a result?
We’ll reach a result alright but as for what that result will be, I don’t know. Given the deep differences, we’ve got to work for the commonalities, the common denominator rather than block one another. We’ve got a mandate to investigate and make proposals for actions.
There’s a strongly shared view in WGIG that we must ensure the participation of developing countries into the internet governance mechanisms. There’s a need for capacity building among developing countries where they share an equal ownership stake in how the internet is being run. It’s not just a tool for people in rich countries.
So we’ll come up with something that makes sense and brings the issues to a more mature debate and more improvement on how the arrangements work with the ultimate aim of more acceptance of those arrangements relating to internet governance.
What kind of skills do you have to draw on from yourself to facilitate that?
I’m learning by doing. As a secretary I’m not in the driving seat, rather I’m facilitating, reading the group mails. From time to time I summarize and outline how we agree as a group. At other times I highlight issues that we may need to address whilst also figuring out what status these papers should have. Most of all my role is in the middle trying to co-ordinate. I do it with due modesty. I’m no expert, rather a classical government diplomat using those skills to breach the gaps in order to find a common ground among differing views.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you try to do differently based on your experiences?
It’s been a very complex undertaking, I’ve had to be my own entrepreneur and ask for money from potential donors. We had a tough beginning where I started this as a Swiss foreign ministry official. But my superiors have allowed me to devote my time exclusively to this since July.
Given the constraint of limited resources both financial and human, I can’t see that there’s much I’d have done differently. It was always my intention to take it slowly from the bottom up and that strategy seems to be working to a large extent.
What is it that you like about your work?
It’s cutting edge diplomacy with new actors on a multi-stakeholder stage. Internet communication was accountable to itself and the users until recently. But now some governments think it should be accountable to governments. It’s a growing medium yet the founding fathers are still with us so we can discuss these issues and listen to people like Dr. Kahn as we wouldn’t be here without them.
It’s a question of finding a bridge and a dialogue between the community and the political governments where we satisfy both side without endangering the ability of the internet to do its job. And most of all, we’ve got to remember that if it ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.