INTERNET GOVERNANCE FORUM: APC puts up the fight for an open access, equal opportunity and educative internet
By FN for APCNews
GOA, INDIA, 11 October 2006
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan convenes a new "forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue" on the future of the internet. The inaugural meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which APC is viewing as a "vitally important event" will be held in Athens from October 30 to November 2. It is coined by the UN as “One of the most significant outcomes of the World Summit on Information Society […]”.
The Association for Progressive Communications’ policy programme manager, Willie Currie, told APCNews: "The IGF is a vitally important event as it is a new form of global governance, in which all stakeholders in the internet – which has become the primary means of global communication and information – can participate."
The IGF has set four priorities – openness (freedom of expression, free flow of information, ideas and knowledge); diversity (multilingualism, local content); access (internet connectivity: policy and cost) and security (surveillance, privacy, ‘cybercrime’ – and has identified capacity building, and the priorities of developing countries, as ‘cross-cutting’ issues.
APC will be advancing its agenda in all of these areas through a series of workshops in partnership with a variety ot stakeholders, from developed and developing countries.
"We’re collaborating on a number of workshops on internet protocol (IP) network deployment, gender, capacity building […]," said Currie who takes Annan’s call for a forum on "Internet Governance for Development" seriously.
APC is also working very closely on privacy and identity management with, among others, the London School of Economics and Privacy International.
"For the first time in a global policy forum, governments, civil society, the private sector and international organisations can address public policy issues concerning the internet on an equal footing," Currie added in an interview from New York conducted over an web-based instant messaging service.
The potential of this forum might well be genuine, if put in context with poor performances in other international summits. “In a period of increasing global tension and breakdown as evidenced by the deadlock at the WTO, the IGF points in the direction of a new way of approaching global public policy. It is not accidental that the future of the internet is the key issue."
APC’s working group on internet governance has high expectations in terms of outcomes from the IGF.
"The creation of international norms and, if possible, a shared framework on a range of issues affecting the internet such as freedom of expression, the right to privacy, access, gender and development is critical," APC’s Willie Currie argued.
In his view, the challenge of globalisation is for all involved to agree to a system of norms and rules that have legitimacy and address inequality. "How we deal with the governance of the internet will shape the extent to which an increasingly globalised world rests on principles of justice and equality for all or on the arbitrary application of unaccountable acts of power," he said.
Special Adviser for Internet Governance Nitin Desai, set up a small secretariat in Geneva to support the process. A multi-stakeholder advisory group composed of 46 members from government, the private sector and civil society, including the academic and technical communities, is supposed to ‘represent all regions of the world’.
Access as "cross-cutting priority"
Making its proposals for taking part in the event, APC argued that bridging the digital divide "means providing access to telecommunications, as well as information and communication technologies [ICTs] and promoting their use so that all segments of society can harness the opportunities of the information society."
It said such opportunities not only serve as an engine for economic growth, but they also enable social, educational and medical progress; progress that hinge upon the rollout of communications networks.
One of APC’s proposals is for a workshop that focuses on the factors and challenges encountered in the deployment of IP-based network infrastructure -the physical layer on which the internet is delivered.
Africa ICT policy researcher Abi Jagun, based at the Institute for Development Policy and Management of the University of Manchester noted: "It takes stock of the initiatives and approaches various developing regions are implementing in deploying such networks, assessing the context in which they are being promoted, and discussing their viability through relevant case studies.” Continued Jagun: “We are hereby providing valuable learning opportunities for policy and decision makers."
On the theme of access, APC plans to discuss approaches that focus on the complementary ‘clusters’ – (i) policy and legislation, (ii) regulation, and (iii) "business" models. 
The green web and content regulation
Content regulation on the internet will also be in APC’s sight. “The approach we are taking here is a gender, combined with a development one,” mentioned Katerina Fialova from APC’s women’s programme APC WNSP.
“What we want is to explore existing online content regulation frameworks and assess their impact from both of these perspectives,” Fialova indicated. “Specifically,” she added, “we’d like participants to get to grips with the issue of violence against women by looking at how regulations facilitate or impede access to information and knowledge and empower or dis-empower those they seek to ‘protect’.”
APC’s Pavel Antonov, an experienced campaigner with the environmental network BlueLink, is to be the moderator of a workshop on bridging the paradigm gap between environmentally sustainable development and the ‘information society’.
"The workshop will address how communities in the Global South can harness the immense potential of ICTs in addressing sustainability problems. It will focus on the development and use of legal and institutional mechanisms which strengthen the capacity of civil society for participation in decision-making," Antonov said.
Capacity building as a fundamental
The fourth workshop APC is leading at the IGF is about capacity building needs. Along with David Souter, managing director of ICT Development Associates ltd, APC’s Karen Banks will work towards identifying and addressing constraints on ‘participation by all’.
Capacity building is the overarching theme of the IGF and of fundamental importance to APC’s efforts to democratise the internet. Because of its wide-ranging implications, advocacy manager Karen Banks has decided to treat it with particular attention. “The idea is to propose strategies through which IGF stakeholders and others can address critical gaps,” she said.
One such example is addressing capacity building that targets two groups that need to interact in the context of convergence – network information centres (NICs) – such as AfriNIC, which is the regional internet registry for Africa, responsible for domain names .sn, .ci and .er for example – and regulators.
"In its short life, the internet has become an agent of dramatic, even revolutionary change and maybe one of today’s greatest instruments of progress. It is a marvellous tool to promote and defend freedom and to give access to information and knowledge," Kofi Annan said in his statement announcing the upcoming IGF meeting.
These words by the top UN bureaucrat might sound encouraging. But for progressive communications to shine on the world, the IGF will have to be more than a test-run. If WSIS was just that, it’s time for governments, civil society and the private sector to put goodwill and openness at work.
 Here, ‘business’ refers to the structures and mechanisms adopted in financing, constructing, managing, and governing the network.