The Internet is not new. It has existed, in one form or another, since the 1960s. Since that time, it has been primarily the domain of the engineers and the other technology-minded individuals that built it.
The organizations that were put in place to govern it predate the huge growth in end users the Internet experienced in the 2000s. These organizations were set up by the technology community to deal with technological issues. They are able, in structure and capacity, to deal with technological issues.
The issues facing the Internet in 2014, however, are very different from those in 1998. Issues of cyber-crime, online surveillance, copyright and trademark protection, and so on, are issues of public policy, not governance. Even IPv6 and DNSSEC have primarily moved from the technology sphere to the policy sphere with their current challenge of adoption and implementation.
Fundamentally, the Internet governance ecosystem has moved from discussions of ‘how it works' to ‘how it's used', and structures like ICANN do not have the capacity, or mandate, to deal with these issues. However, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), created in 2006, is an annual multi-stakeholder forum for discussing Internet policy issues. While it has no binding outcomes, it is widely regarded as an important part of the Internet ecosystem.
It's no secret that the IGF has struggled with a lack of funding for a number of years. I firmly believe that if we don't step up and provide financial support to IGF today, we will have an important missed opportunity. That's why at the recent NETmundial meeting in Brazil, CIRA joined a group of ccTLDs to financially support the IGF. Together, we committed a minimum of $100,000 per year for several years. Participating registries include .AU (Australia), .DK (Denmark), .CN (China), .NL (Netherlands), .UK (United Kingdom), .BR (Brazil) and .MX (Mexico). I expect other ccTLDs to join us soon.
The IGF provides the ideal venue to discuss issues of how the Internet is used – public policy issues – in an open, multi-stakeholder and inviting forum. It provides an arena for discussions that have no other place. Because it is a United Nations-coordinated entity, it is approachable for newcomers to the governance ecosystem – the developing world, those two billion people we are about to bring online.
Let's face it, fora like ICANN are easy for those of us on the inside. Our organizations, primarily based in the developed world, have been participants since the early days of the public Internet. However, what is easy for us may not be as inviting, or comfortable, for those who are not coming to the table with the same political and philosophical groundings – the governments and other representative bodies from the developing world. We need recognize the fact that the decisions we make today about the structures that govern the Internet need to work for both the newcomers and those of us who have been on the inside of Internet for many years. The IGF bridges this gap.
The group of ccTLDs CIRA has joined believe the IGF is a critical entity in the Internet governance ecosystem. We are prepared to demonstrate our commitment to it with financial support. I'd like to call on other organizations that have benefitted from the IGF, and from the free and open Internet, to join us in our support. Governments, the private sector and others have reaped the benefits of the work of the IGF, and now it's time to give something back.
I was pleasantly surprised at the level of support expressed for the IGF at NETmundial. The draft outcome document from NETmundial even calls for a strengthened IGF, including, “ensuring guaranteed stable and predictable funding for the IGF is essential.” If your organization expressed support for the IGF at NETmundial, or has benefitted from fora like the IGF, I call on you to put their ‘money where their mouth is'. Join us by providing multi-year financial support for this important entity.