Monday, September 12, 2005

Caribbean Internet Governance Forum

Last week the CTU and the CARICOM Secretariat hosted the Caribbean Internet Governance Forumin Georgetown, Guyana.
I was a speaker, on the topic of Internet Governance and Development,as well as co-moderator for the second day's workshop session.
The aim of the workshop was (to my mind) to primarily inform people in the CARICOM region of the issues surrounding Internet Governance, as well as to advise on a CARICOM position for these Internet Governance issues for the Governments to take to Prepcom 3 of the WSIS Tunis phase (starting Sept 19 in Geneva)
First, a few general points:
For an Internet Governance meeting, there were woefully few laptops in the room. This may be because of the same divide problem that we have with respect to the cost of laptops and availability of same in developing nations, but these people should have been the haves.
Similarly, the setup of the meeting did not allow for WiFi in the meeting room unless one was a hotel guest and chose to pay US$15 per day for such access. I did, but there were very few other takers.
The gender balance in the room was, as always, tilted towards the male, but also, especially as it was AmerIndian Week in Guyana, there were no indigenous people, no youth representatives, and only one female invited speaker who wasn't from CTU or CARICOM - me!
Taran Rampersad has done a decent job of reviewing what went on in the room over the two days, but I disagree with a lot of his conclusions. Probably because I come from a different part of the process.

The organisers overbooked the schedule with speakers, thus not allowing time for discussion on the topics raised. There were many statements that needed explanation and discussion, such as a statement on internet security that basically said - "As a multimedia platform, the Internet is inherently insecure" ??!??!!!!??
Anyway - will write on that later.

But basically, as most of the people in the room were new to the WSIS process, the work of the WGIG and the concepts of Internet Governance, the discussion in the first workshop roamed very wide, with a lot of non-Internet Governance issues making it into the discussion.
As co-moderator of the second day, I discussed the process with Teny, my other co-moderator, and the CTU staff, and we determined a method of getting a document out of the meeting that would assist the CARICOM governments in the Prepcom Negotiation process.
The Chairman Designate of PrepCom-3 Sub-Committee A, Ambassador Masood Khan (working on Internet Governance at the Prepcom) had posted a "Food for thought" document. This was used as the basis for the discussion on the second day, mainly because it would probably form the structure of the discussion at Prepcom3. With this structure and a firm hand on the timing, we managed to get valuable directed input to form a non-consensus input to the IT ministers of CARICOM.

There's been some discussion re the lack of consensus at the Forum. In my opinion, with the group that was in attendance, of whom many had little or no experience with the WSIS process or with the WGIG or Internet Governance issues, a consensus would have been impossible. There was not even agreement on the WGIG definition of Internet Governance, as many of the attendees were now discussing these issues in the context of Internet Governance for the first time.

Even so, there was valuable input, and the document that can go to the CARICOM Ministers will have many varied points of view (more valuable to politicians entering a negotiation than a single point of view).

A major success of the Forum was the interaction and networking among Internet professionals in the CARICOM region.

However, the region still has a long way to go - a lot of capacity building is needed to allow us to take our seat and participate in the Internet Governance discussions that are taking place internationally. I've suggested to the CTU and to the CARICOM secretariat that this meeting should be the first of a series that lead towards the development of a regional Internet Governance mechanism. We need to follow up on this seriously. There are several models already in other parts of the world, for example Brazil, and we need to work on this ASAP.

We are late to the game, but not too late - the elevator hasn't started moving yet, so we can still get in on the ground floor.

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