Today is the first day of the inauguration meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Athens, Greece. The IGF is an outcome of the second phase of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and follows up on its Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). While not having a policy setting mandate, the IGF is a global policy discussion forum, including issues that might greatly affect Free Software, such as Spam regulation, Cybercrime and knowledge monopolisation.
When arriving last night, the first positive impression was the general availability of gratis wireless internet access everywhere, including the hotels. Not quite so pleasant is the massive presence of Microsoft advertisement everywhere: The internet cafe runs entirely on Microsoft Windows, the beamers show large Windows XP logos in the background, and the official IGF website has the IGF synthesis paper exclusively in Microsoft Word format. This seems consistent with the experience of the UN WGIG and the process leading up to the IGF.
Indeed, the synthesis paper has something to say about this:
63. Many submissions stressed the need to differentiate between two distinct issues: how to define and uphold open standards on the one hand and the debate over proprietary versus free and open source software (F/OSS) on the other. The proponents of F/OSS argued that the Internet and free and open source software went hand-in-hand. It was F/OSS that made the Internet and the World Wide Web possible and continued to shape and develop it. The contribution regretted that F/OSS and its representatives had been all but excluded from the debate on Internet governance so far, first in the framework of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) and subsequently in the IGF processes.
It seems this is mainly what’s left of the Sovereign Software: Open Standards, Free Software, and the Internet submission I wrote for this first meeting of the IGF.
This is somewhat disappointing as the submissions were invited with the additional information that they would be made available to the delegates here in Athens in original and translated form. In fact, I was even asked for translator guidelines on my submissions, including a Free Software Essentials Reference Sheet which appears to have disappeared entirely. Worse is the misrepresentation of what was submitted, though, as the paper takes care to explain how Open Standards and Free Software are not connected in theory, but very connected in practice.
Where to from here?
Many of the discussions — as well as many of the main hall meetings — seem to be struggling with the question of where the IGF will be heading, what it will discuss, and how that will be carried forward. So this is probably a central question to answer here in Athens. If you want to follow what’s going on, the IGF does have a timely transcript of statements in the plenary and a live video stream from Athens on its official web page.
So the next days will be filled with plenty of discussions, and on 1 November I’ll try to bring in at least some Free Software perspective at the high level panel on "Access" here at the IGF.