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RIPE Community Impressions of IGF 2014

Chris Buckridge — 23 Sep 2014
The ninth annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) ran from 1-5 September in Istanbul, Turkey, attracting nearly 2,500 participants on-site and more than 1,000 online to participate in wide-ranging Internet governance discussions. As part of ongoing efforts to ensure a strong technical community voice in IGF discussions, the RIPE NCC funded the participation of several key community members from across the service region. This article brings together some of their impressions and feedback from the event.

Walid Al-Saqaf

Walid Al-Saqaf is a researcher at Orebro University in Sweden, and Chair and Founder of the Yemen Chapter of the Internet Society. He attended the RIPE 68 Meeting as a RACI fellow and presented his work on circumvention of web censorship.

1. For most of you this was your first IGF - did you have any expectations or preconceived ideas about the event?

This was not my first IGF. Hence, I had no preconceived ideas. But I did have some expectations for this particular IGF. Among them was the expectation that the event will focus on what outcomes the IGF had over the last 9 years and what can be done to transform the discussions that take place into something more tangible or implementable on the ground. There were some attempts at addressing this point but they were not comprehensive enough, leaving the question largely unanswered.

2. What topics (or specific workshops) were you particularly interested in going into the event?

I was interested in workshops and sessions connected to human rights on the Internet, Internet blocking, regional IGFs and open access. I ended up making it to sessions that revolved around those themes based on the schedule that I planned for myself in advance. As an active Arab Internet researcher and activist, I was also interested in Arab IGF-related sessions. 

3. Were there any discussions you got involved in or found interesting that you had not expected?

I was pleasantly surprised by the new information I gained from the open forum organised by the Web Foundation that discussed "capturing the effects" of the Internet. Stories from Mozambique, South Africa and Latin America about how the Internet's impact was measured intrigued me as I realised how different and new methods of measurements could be used. This would potentially help me in own research concerning measuring accessibility and censorship. I was also pleased by the Internet Ungovernance Forum , which presented strong criticism of the IGF process as a whole. It was good to see that the organisers of the IGF not only allowed the parallel event to take place, but even promoted it by having shuttles and public announcements and introductions through several speakers.

4. Any general impressions of the event, and the IGF more generally, coming out of this experience?

To me, the IGF fell short of solving the dilemmas around the interpretation of multistakeholderism and the missing link between what is being discussed at the IGF and the practice on the ground, particularly when it comes to the IGF's role as a producer of outcomes that could be advanced further. However, I was still glad that more government representatives appear to have participated -at least from my own country Yemen- which is a sign that there is growing interest by governments to engage with other stakeholders when it comes to the Internet.

5. Is the IGF an event you would plan to attend again (or encourage peers to attend)?

Certainly, particularly the next one, which is officially the last in the current IGF mandate (which was extended once before). Furthermore, it is important to have one large event that brings together major Internet bodies such as ICANN, ISOC, Google, and regional registries. It is important to also consider that civil society's involvement in the process is crucial to represent users and protect their interest. So yes, I'll be willing to attend the next IGF and encourage others to do the same.

 

Rob Evans

Rob Evans is the Chief Network Architect at Janet, the UK research and education network. He has served as Co-chair of the RIPE Routing Working Group since 2006.

1. For most of you this was your first IGF - did you have any expectations or preconceived ideas about the event?

Not really, other than the general perception of the technical and network operations community of 'why would you want to go to that?' I largely blamed the RIPE NCC.

2. What topics (or specific workshops) were you particularly interested in going into the event?

My opportunity to prepare was limited, and so I didn't manage to closely look at the agenda until a few days before the meeting. I was intrigued personally (rather than something that is of direct professional relevance) in the post-Snowden sessions on privacy, surveillance and the cloud. However, more related to my work, and the theme of this IGF, I was interested in the role that NRENs (National Research and Education Networks) have to play in enabling access to those who don't currently have access to the Internet.

On top of that I was hoping to get a 'bigger picture' view of the IANA transition and see how the IGF fits into the landscape of Internet governance.

3. Were there any discussions you got involved in or found interesting that you had not expected?

The future of the IGF isn't something I'd been too concerned with previously, so discussions around that were enlightening to understand the positions of various governments and other stakeholders on the future of Internet governance.

4. Any general impressions of the event, and the IGF more generally, coming out of this experience?

I came to the meeting naive as to how policy was made at the IGF, and didn't leave much clearer on this aspect other than to realise that perhaps policy isn't made at the IGF and it is, as perhaps the name should suggest to me, a forum for discussion.

In that light it was curious to hear many of the government delegations suggesting that after 8 years it was time to stop talking and start doing. Doing what I am still unclear of, and slightly concerned about.

It was disappointing to see so many of the 'technical community' sessions poorly attended. I'm particularly thinking of the sessions on building communities and connecting continents with fibre optic.

Generally I have come out of the IGF with the impression that much needs to be done to improve the involvement of the technical community. This needs to come from both sides -- Civil Society and Government need to be prepared to listen to what the technical community has to say, but the technical community must also have the right people that can speak on their behalf and on an equal footing with the other stakeholders.

As it stands, the IGF appears to be dominated by government and civil society with a sideline of the technical community thrown in. There was, for example, much talk of spectrum because that may be what former telco regulators know most about. There was little talk about the need for IPv6 in enabling access for the remainder of society.

The RIRs fill a part of that role, but it can't be completely filled by staff who are inevitably more involved in policy and coordination roles.

5. Is the IGF an event you would plan to attend again (or encourage peers to attend)?

Tricky. Most people in the technical community would be bored rigid with the IGF, for very good reason. However, as I've noted above, I feel there needs for greater involvement of the technical community. The sort of people that can cover both camps at the appropriate level of discussion are few and far between (I'm not claiming to be one), and if they've not been to an IGF before they probably need to be briefed carefully beforehand. I would encourage some of my peers to attend, I'm just not sure which ones at the moment.

 

Bijal Sanghani

Since 2011, Bijal Sanghani has served as the Head of Secretariat for Euro-IX, the European Internet Exchange Association. She is Co-chair of the RIPE NCC Services Working Group, a position she has held since 2005.

1. For most of you this was your first IGF - did you have any expectations or preconceived ideas about the event?

I was expecting the meeting to be a lot more policy and governmental; the sessions that I went to weren’t exactly technical but were more informative and interesting as they were on topics that are not seen at the ’usual’, more technical-based meetings that I attend.

2. What topics (or specific workshops) were you particularly interested in going into the event?

Anything IXP related, though unfortunately there was only one IXP session (which was good and I had the opportunity to speak at). The large panel session on access was really good; it was interesting to hear the different views and plans in various parts of the world on how to make access better. It was also nice to hear from some of the panelists that they believed IXPs are a good way to keep content local and make access better.

3. Were there any discussions you got involved in or found interesting that you had not expected?

Discussions I got involved with were in the IXP session and the building communities. There were a few other sessions that I found interesting but didn’t feel I could partake this time round as I felt I was missing background information and history (like the OECD session or the Snowden aftermath session).

Unfortunately before the event I didn’t do as much research as I felt I needed, but also being the first one I tried not to have too many expectations. I was told by many that it’s all suits and very formal - I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, but that could also be as I didn’t meet with many real official people.

4. Any general impressions of the event, and the IGF more generally, coming out of this experience?

In general I thought it was a good week with some interesting discussions. What wasn’t really clear to me was if there have been any tangible outcomes from the event i.e. which governments have changed their policies as an outcome of attending the IGF? I heard a lot of we’re doing this, we’re doing that but not really ‘from attending the IGF, we changed this or that’, again this may have been discussed in sessions I didn’t attend.

5. Is the IGF an event you would plan to attend again (or encourage peers to attend)?

I think so - I made contacts with people who I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to meet. I would attend again for the network.

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