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ICANN Explains “Brazil Meeting” Initiative

Given the post-Prism political climate, it should come as no surprise that the 8th edition of the UN-initiated Internet Governance Forum (IGF), currently happening in Bali (Indonesia), is showing record-braking attendance with more than 2,000 delegates.

With a byline of “building bridges: enhancing multistakeholder cooperation for growth and sustainable development”, the meeting’s main theme is clearly the need to evolve the current model for Internet Governance. But not quite everyone has the same view on exactly how that should happen. The Day 1 Opening Ceremony speeches provided an interesting mix of calls for change, and warnings against the cure being worse than the disease.

Brazil has long been publicly displeased with a perceived dominance of US-control over Internet Governance and no-one was too surprised to hear the country’s Minister of Communications Paolo Bernado Silva take the floor during the October 22 Opening Ceremony to call for a change to this model. In fact, the Minister confirmed that the central theme of a meeting his country is organising in the first half of 2014 would be the need to develop a new model for Internet Governance.

More surprising to many was ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé picking up on the same theme. Chehadé has caused many an eyebrow to raise when he recently met with Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and announced the Brazil meeting. “The trust in the global Internet has been punctured and now it’s time to restore this trust through leadership and institutions that can make that happen,” Chehadé was quoted as saying at the time of the summit announcement.

Chehadé continued on this theme during the IGF Opening Ceremony, where he called for all governments to be placed on an equal footing in Internet Governance, whilst being careful to caution against exclusive governmental control by saying everyone must be included. “In my home continent of Africa we have a saying,” Chehadé said in closing his IGF Opening Ceremony remarks. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. So let’s go together.”

During a packed ICANN briefing on recent events held today, Day 2, of the Bali IGF, Board member Chris Disspain gave further insight into ICANN’s current strategy. “Since the WCIT and the events of the last few weeks, the “coalition of the willing” who have been looking after the multi-stakeholder model has been weakened. To the point there is now a real risk of the governance of the Internet falling into governmental control.”

ICANN’s leadership is clearly worried about the coming year. “There are many important meetings to come,” Disspain continued. “The plenipot and the WSIS+10 for example. Yet today we don’t have an alternative to offer, so there is increasing worry that some Internet Governance functions will fall to government oversight.”

ICANN’s answer: a coalition of thought leaders to work on Internet Governance, of which the Brazil meeting would be just one step on the road to finding solutions to stay the perceived risk that Internet Governance issues would end up in the hands of governments.

Speaking after Disspain, ICANN CEO Chehadé put the Brazil meeting in the wider context of this overall goal. “This is not a “Brazil meeting”, it’s “a” meeting. Brazil has told us they don’t want it to be about them or ICANN, it’s not about finding solutions, it’s about setting the framework for doing so. It will be a truly multistakeholder meeting, with a multistakeholder steering committee where Brazil and maybe 3 or 4 other organising countries will be involved, attended by a multistakeholder audience.”

Chehadé said the meeting would probably happen in the first week of May 2014 and that the exact date and meeting details would be announced by November 11.

By Stéphane Van Gelder, Consultant

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