On Monday the NTIA released the agenda for the upcoming public meeting in Washington DC covering the Mid-term Review of the JPA between DoC and ICANN. And yesterday, in Geneva, the Internet Governance Forum opened its first preparatory meeting for the upcoming Forum in Hyderabad, India from December 3-6. It’s too early to draw conclusions, but the structure of the meetings suggests two distinct operational modes of Internet governance.

In Switzerland, Co-Chair Nitin Desai skillfully ran a discussion ranging from review of IGF-Rio main panel and workshop structure and renewal of the MAG to future expectations for the Forum. Numerous interventions were made by the Internet Governance Caucus and other civil society organizations. IGP’s Milton Mueller highlighted the de facto competition for people's time and attention between workshops and main sessions that occurred in Rio. In most cases (with the exception of the one on Critical Internet Resources), he argued, the plenary sessions lost that competition because they were too generic in focus and the process of selecting speakers probably too political. But the bigger problem, according to Mueller, was that most workshop panels were completely segregated by ideology and perspective. He cited how freedom of expression advocates were in one workshop talking to each other, while advocates of stricter controls on content in the name of child protection were in another panel. In his words, “those people need to talk to each other, not past each other.”

In addition, several private sector umbrella and individual organizations were represented. ISOC pushed a new theme of “connecting the next billion.” Their newly appointed lead on Strategic Global Engagement, former Canadian diplomat Bill Graham, reiterated their desire that the IGF remain “multilateral, multistakeholder, democratic and transparent, and that it is neutral, nonduplicative and nonbinding consistent with the WSIS guidelines.” In addition, Graham highlighted that in Rio it was recognized that successful multi-stakeholder Internet governance discussions at local, national and regional levels are essential to progressing Internet governance at the global level.

Not to be outdone, governments, including Canada, China, Russia, Egypt, Brazil, India, Kenya, France, and others, took the opportunity to chime in. Some of the most interesting comments came from the Swiss who raised the bar in terms of expectations of the IGF. In their view, the “IGF should be a platform where participants can exchange views and ideas on how the Internet can best continue to be a sphere of innovation that serves all people around the planet to progress in their economic, political, social, and cultural development.” But in addition to open discussion, the IGF should “develop a form of a paper outcome that reflects the co-views, discussions of the IGF…there would be no need for a consensus on such a document. On the contrary, diverging views should be reflected.” He continued, “the IGF should not be a place where decisions are taken but its discussions should be heard in other fora where decisions are taken.”

Unfortunately, most of the current Internet regime administrative bodies and technical community (e.g., ICANN, RIRs, IETF) did not choose to participate in the discussion, with the notable exception of current ccNSO Chair Chris Disspain. But other than this glaring abstention, the multi-stakeholder model, a feature characteristic of Internet governance institutions and policy debates at the global level, ruled the day.

Now if we could only be as optimistic about this Thursday’s meeting at the DoC. Having received nearly 170 comments representing a diversity of civil society, private sector and government views from inside and outside the United States, it should be clear to the NTIA that its processes and decisions are relevant to a global Internet community. Regrettably though, the lineup of expected panelists does not reflect this diversity, but rather powerful domestic interests and a few choice policy allies from outside the United States. In particular, the second panel, “Ensuring ICANN's Continued Progress and Sustainability,” lacks multi-stakeholder balance, and offers only the perspectives of the business, registry, registrar and technical communities. Non-commercial interests are noticeably and unfortunately absent, as are other governments’ interests. The failure to include all constituencies is unfortunate since the NTIA inquiry and public meeting is the first step in a critical discussion about whether the political oversight of ICANN by a single government will be extended in 2009.

The IGP realizes it is difficult to put together an agenda that covers the full breadth of opinions on this particular Internet governance issue. But the multi-stakeholder model is a fundamental feature of global Internet governance institutions and policy debates, and it should be supported at every opportunity. A common retort is that Internet community individuals often wear multiple hats, e.g. working in the private sector while simultaneously participating in non-governmental/non-business oriented organizations, or having rotated in and out of government and/or regulatory body. Having organized several multi-stakeholder panels we can attest this is true. But the key issue is to ensure that a diversity of policy preferences is represented in any discussion. Only in this manner can progress on difficult questions be made.