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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 14:58 GMT
Reporter's Log: Internet Governance Forum
The future of the net has been under discussion at the first-ever Internet Governance Forum in Athens.

The four-day event started on Monday and was set up by the United Nations to give companies, governments, organisations and individuals the space to debate what should happen to the net in the coming years.

BBC News website Technology editor Darren Waters was reporting from the conference as it happened.


The Internet Governance Forum in Athens has ended.

It concluded with a discussion on perhaps the most important issue - access for all.

Bill Woodcock, of firm Packet Clearing House, told delegates that people were misusing the word access.

"Access is not a noun. It's a verb when we talk about the net. I can't give access to someone."

That seemed an unnecessary debate on semantics. Africa needs access. Parts of the Middle East and Asia need access.

Access, as many delegates pointed out this week, means infrastructure; it means copper wire, or fibre optics, it means servers and computers, routers and ethernet cable. It means money to buy the technology and fair deals for buying access.

They are all nouns - last time I checked.

As one of the young panel members said, quoting Desmond Tutu: "Most South Africans don't need a hand out, they need a leg up."

The Internet Governance Forum will return in a year's time in Rio.

Will the same old arguments still be traded back and forth?

Quite probably.


A representative of the Council of Europe was made to look a little foolish when he asked the panel of young people about the growing use of social networks by young people and possible over use of such things as MySpace.

A young Nigerian told him: "If you ask a person in Lagos 'What is MySpace?' he is going to stare at your face.

"There is a danger here. People want access. If I have access to information I am empowered.

"They are young people who can't compete with their peers in other places in the world. We need to address this now, if not yesterday."


A panel of university graduates from around the world has been gathered to give their views on the net's development, their hopes and fears.

Here is a selection of their comments on the theme of "The change I seek..."


The change I seek is an equalisation of access. We presently speak of a digital divide but I am concerned that if action is not taken soon the problem will get wider.


The change I seek is equally-enabled electronic citizens aware of their rights and responsibilities.

South Africa

The change I seek is a generation of underserved youth empowered to participate in a digital world.


The change I seek is that I want to see a more democratic way of defining internet policies and discussions and the voice of students and youth considered for policy making.


The change I seek is to have an internet with a dynamic flow of information and freedom to create, share and modify knowledge.


Amnesty International has just handed over a petition of 50,000 pledges to the chairman of the IGF.

The pledge is part of the human rights group's campaign on freedom of expression, called Irrepressible Info.

The pledge states:

"I believe the Internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression. People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference.

I call on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression on the Internet - and on companies to stop helping them do it."

Amnesty International has told me it is delighted that human rights have been at the core of the agenda. It's certainly been one of the most discussed issues so far.


One of the key practical steps emerging from the forum is the development of a series of "dynamic coalitions".

So far I've come across newly-formed dynamic coalitions on principles of internet governance, open standards, an internet bill of rights and gender advocates.

"We are certainly adding a new term," said Mr Desai. "It's a good concept."

These coalitions are loose collections of organisation and individuals working towards a common goal.

But as researcher Jeremy Paul pointed out: "There isn't any clear understanding of their relationship with the IGF."

Overall the key success of the IGF emerging is in getting groups of people together who perhaps have never sat around a table together.

To have Amnesty International talking to a Chinese government official is not something that would have happened at past meetings of this kind.


The final session at the IGF is becoming ever so slightly fractious. But of course in an atmosphere of diplomatic language - it is all done ever so politely.

A number of delegates have stood up to ask why they were not invited onto the panels of the main sessions.

IGF co-ordinator Nitin Desai has again stressed the open nature of the forum.

"There is no individualised invitation to attend," he said.

"The real issue is the capacity; the resources to attend. That is something we will have to address."

One speaker prompted widespread applause when he asked why the IGF had no mechanism in place to formalise some of the discussions that have taken place.

"Why shouldn't something specific come out of this forum?" said Adama Samassekou, president of the African Academy of Language in Mali, whose comments were given weight by his status as one of the IGF board members.

He said: "We need a follow-up mechanism so it is not just another summit meeting.

"We should see how we can make specific use of outcomes of such meetings and move to more specific and real action between various bodies here."


The summing up session is underway, but anyone hoping for a set of principles to emerge from the forum might be disappointed.

Nitin Desai, chair of the IGF organising committee, said: "It would be misleading to say there is any such thing as an agreed conclusion or product of the meeting in the strictest sense of the term.

"We are not trying to come at some agreement or conclusion."


It is the final day of the Internet Governance Forum.

The debates and discussions are all but over, and now it is the opportunity for all involved to reflect on the successes and failures of the forum.

What has been achieved? One delegate told me he hoped that in a year's time he would not be having exactly the same conversations has had in the last few days.

Because IGF is not a decision making body, it's hard to assess what tangible results will come out of Athens.

Some delegates are hoping that the chair of the forum, Nitin Desai, will lay down some quasi-resolutions at the end of the day, to help concentrate minds.

It is certainly different from a year ago, when the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis - the forerunner of IGF - laid down some clear objectives and principles.

No-one has to abide by or listen to anything the IGF has or has not said.

For some that is the strength of the forum; for others the weakness.


There are embarrassed faces at the IGF summit as the official website for the forum has been knocked temporarily offline.

Visitors to the site are greeted with the image of a dog and an out-of-order sign.

On the bright side it's perhaps gone offline due to the sheer volume of visitors to the website, reflecting the great interest in the event.

It's certainly an inconvenience as the official site is the main conduit to transcripts and webcasts of the event.

It also highlights many of the problems faced with creating a global network fit for the 21st century.


A billion people around the world use the internet. And each uses it for their own ends and in their own way.

Yet the net remains a text-based, anglo-centric expression of the world. Its development remains dominated by English-speaking engineers and entrepreneurs who have a rather narrow view of who wants to use the net.

But what of those with disabilities or those who are illiterate? What of those whose computers do not meet the latest technical standards or do not have broadband access.

One of the key discussions at the IGF is around "open standards" to ensure that the net remains true to its original vision of inclusivity and open access.

The debate focuses on a range of issues, among the standards for how the web is accessed and displayed to new models of representation online.

Earlier today delegate Patrik Faltstrom suggested that a website such as YouTube pointed the way to an all-embracing internet.

"People, just by clicking, can upload and watch video. You don't have to read and write," he said.

Internet pioneers and web developers are beginning to be asked to think more broadly when it comes to innovating.


The job of connecting up the five billion people who do not have net access is one of the biggest tasks facing the telecoms world.

Less than 4% of people in Africa have online access, and 0.1% have broadband access, a tiny fraction of the near billion people on the continent.

It's a daunting task ahead and one of the most important discussions for the IGF.

But the session on access is quite probably the poorest attended of all the main debates in Athens.

Security and freedom of expression pulled big crowds but this one has not - why?

One of the arguments is that because the private sector has driven so much of the growth of the net, they are not interested in Africa because there is no money to be made there.

It's one of the reasons that mobile phone access has become so crucial in Africa because more and more people can connect to the net via phones.

People who want to take part in the debate around the world can text their questions on access to:

In English: +30 697 680 6260 En Francais: +30 697 182 1854


Does the world need an internet bill of rights? That's the questions being asked at a session this afternoon.

It's a question that has been asked many times before and several answers have been offered but nothing concrete has ever emerged.

Why does the net need a separate bill? Aren't national laws good enough?

Who should draft this bill? What rights need to be protected?

"The rights we have enjoyed in the traditional age must move with us to the digital age," said Robin Gross, executive director of IP Justice.

I'll be filing a longer feature on the issue of rights in the digital age later in the day.


Internet founder Vint Cerf believes that the Internet Governance Forum should be renamed.

"It should be called the Internet Facilitation Forum," he told the conference.

"Everything I am hearing is about how to make this thing work for everybody.

I want to encourage everyone in terms of facilitation because that is what I think it is all about."

But a minute a later someone else stood up at the conference and proclaimed that "no, governance is the right word."

He was followed by a delegate from Malaysia who said: "We all have different interpretations of the word governance. Perhaps we should define it."

This is the problem with the IGF condensed into two minutes of statements: What exactly is everyone debating? What will the result of the debates be if people cannot even agree on the terms of the debate?

"To jaw jaw is better than war war," said Winston Churchill and it is the unofficial guiding principle of the United Nations.

But the UN proper has resolutions it can make. There is no such infrastructure here.


Spam is on the agenda on the third day of the Internet Governance Forum in Athens.

For many people spam has become an unavoidable part of daily internet life even with the growth in use of spam filters and aggressive action by internet service providers.

To help combat the problem an online alliance to battle the rising tide of spam has been launched . You can find more information at www.StopSpamAlliance.org

The Stop Spam Alliance is made up of the six leading anti-span organisations, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Telecommunications Union.

The group has launched a website, which contains information and advice on how to combat spam.

"We know there's no simple single solution to fight spam, and the OECD's work on the anti-spam toolkit stressed the importance of a holistic approach to combating spam," said Claudia Sarrocco of the OECD.

She added: "International organisations could and should work together more effectively against spammers, and this initiative will help them do that."

Jean-Jacques Sahel, of the London Action Plan, said that "the website is an exciting development, providing one entry point for those interested in the global fight against spam".

The co-operative initiative involves the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), the EU Contact Network for Spam enforcement Authorities (CNSA), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the London Action Plan for Spam Enforcement (LAP), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

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