Main session themes for the 2011 Nairobi meeting of the IGF

1. Open Internet - Network Neutrality on Wired and Mobile Networks

Open Internet (or Network Neutrality) describes an ideal in which the openness of the Internet to the broadest possible range of commercial and non-commercial content, applications and services is maintained.  An open Internet is one that supports development, promotes Access to Knowledge, and resists perpetuating the power of old media and telecommunications empires on the new network. An open internet is based on open standards in such a way that it also resists the creation of any new monopolies in the area of information and communication technologies.

With the explosion of Internet usage in the developing world mainly occurring on mobile networks, it is particularly important to consider how the ideal of open Internet will apply in the mobile space.  Should different rules apply for mobile and wired Internet networks?  If so, how can communications rights and Access to Knowledge be preserved for those users, in order to avoid an ongoing information divide?

In proposing this topic for the Nairobi IGF, we want to particularly ensure that it does not shy away from areas of disagreement.  Only by including panelists with divergent views on this topic can the very real and practical Internet governance disputes in this area be adequately and productively aired.

2. Cross border Issues

One of the oldest and thorniest issues for Internet governance concerns the cross-border effects of national laws, policies, enforcement practices, and the actions of intermediaries, on those who have had no representation in the making of those laws, policies, etc.  Current examples include actions taken by governments and intermediaries against Wikileaks, and the “seizure” of domain names alleged to be connected with content piracy.

The process towards enhanced cooperation on Internet policy issues could lead to new proposals that would address some of these cross-border anomalies and deficits.  But at this stage of that process, there is little shared understanding of the approach that should be taken.  This session will look at the philosophical underpinnings and foundations that need to emerge in a world where something like the Internet transcends boundaries and national jurisdictions.  Insights produced through this session may feed into the enhanced coperation process.

Once again, it will be important for discussion of this topic to involve stakeholders with diverging views, discussing concrete issues that demand eventual resolution.

3. Development agenda for Internet governance

Internet governance is not a neutral activity. All Internet governance decisions have implications for development, though in some cases these implications may be less obvious than in others, and they are easily overlooked.

An example is the way in which decisions about such diverse issues as new global top level domains (gTLDs), Unicode, IP enforcement, filtering and censorship, may have an adverse and sometimes unforeseen impact on Access to Knowledge in the developing world.

We propose a main session theme on developing a development agenda for Internet governance, building on the similar session in Vilnius.  This session will help to draw out areas of Internet governance which have significant impacts on development, and to suggest how development concerns can be mainstreamed in Internet governance institutions that have responsibility in these areas.

4. Access to knowledge

Access to knowledge is part of the great promise of the Internet in aiding development, education and culture both within and between countries. Empowerment to fully benefit from today's information and communication technologies is particularly important for people who struggle with poverty or are otherwise marginalised in society

However, new  international standards require countries to increase the level and  territorial extent of intellectual property rights. This trend has  developmental impacts, as countries become less free to support open platforms  for learning, innovating, sharing and producing, while being required to raise  the amount spent on knowledge-based inputs. 

Rather than substantive law harmonization, international IP norm-setting is  now promoting an enforcement agenda, an increasingly punitive response to  counterfeiting and piracy now being discussed in many national and  international institutions. Often this puts  Internet Service Providers in the position of an “Internet police”, with the role to oversight  internet users. 

Governance  of knowledge and Internet governance become deeply intertwined in the context  of an information society. The debate of this theme in a multistakeholder  forum, such as the IGF, would help to reach a more round understanding about  the impacts of this agenda on  issues such as access to knowledge, and the ability to innovate online. 

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