The ninth annual meeting of the United Nations-backed Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has opened in Istanbul, Turkey with more than 2,500 participants who will debate over the next four days key issues “that could affect every Internet user today and tomorrow.”
The first day heard discussions on a range of topics including network neutrality, which considers whether Internet traffic and data should be treated equally or be regulated in a way that prioritizes certain content over others for a price. Network neutrality debates also have implications for economic development, Internet users, and social and human rights.
The more than 2,500 participants on site representing Governments, inter-governmental organizations, the private sector, the technical community and civil society, as well as many more remotely, are expected to also examine cross-border Internet governance, cyber-security, spam, child protection, privacy, freedoms of expression and human rights.
“We want to foster an accessible, open, secure and trustworthy Internet, and people are coming to the Internet Governance Forum to debate the actions that could affect every Internet user today and tomorrow,” said UN Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs Thomas Gass of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
Each year, the United Nations convenes the Forum to bring together various stakeholders to discuss current and emerging Internet governance issues, as well as related opportunities and challenges.
The theme for this year’s meeting is “Connecting Continents for Enhanced Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance.”
To ensure network neutrality, several countries have already implemented, while others are deciding on whether to adopt, network neutrality legislation. As the debate continues, some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have made provisions that require certain content providers to pay for faster access to consumers, which in turn may drive up consumer prices or limit Internet access. At the Forum, many views were expressed on whether or not network neutrality should be enshrined in law.
Vint Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, said that the debate boiled down to consumers’ choice, and that “The question is: are the consumers in charge of where in the Internet they go and what they do with it?”
Countering Mr. Cerf’s claim that often there was not enough competition of service providers, some participants said that competition was a choice between technologies, such as choosing broadband or mobile phones, and not necessarily an issue of a limited number of competitors providing service.
Network neutrality is one of the top issues which will determine the future of the Internet. The four-day forum in Istanbul aims to drive discussions forward to help policy makers determine upcoming decisions that to consider an inclusive, multi-stakeholder approach.
Another key area to be discussed at the Forum will be the transition of many Internet technical functions to the global community. In March 2014, the United States announced plans to transition its stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function to the global multi-stakeholder community.
The IANA performs a set of tasks that involve the administration or coordination of many of the identifiers – including domain names – that allow the global Internet to operate. Debates on this IANA transition are expected to help the global community carefully consider next steps for the transition and ways to enhance accountability for what comes next.
By the end 2014, there will be nearly 3 billion Internet users, and two-thirds are from developing countries. However, this means that more than 4 billion people still do not have access to the Internet, and most people without Internet access live in developing countries. In Africa, only 20 percent of the population is expected to be online by the end of 2014.
The Forum is expected to emphasize the need for increasing Internet access to those without it by raising awareness and initiating discussions to identify innovative ways to address the digital divide and inform policymakers.