“We don’t have lawyers debating words”

Questions to Dr. Robert Pepper, Vice President Global Technology Policy, Cisco, speaking on behalf of ICC BASIS, at the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul. Interview:

Netopia: What is your view on the Internet Governance Forum?

The way the Internet community developed has always been very bottom-up, very open and transparent. Anybody can play. So you have academia, private sector, government and civil society all coming together in a way that has always been at the heart of the Internet culture. As the Internet grew, there was pressure from some governments to make this a multilateral process (government-to-government, editor’s note). So along with the Tunis agenda, the IGF started as an experiment and an answer to that. It is a multi-stakeholder process, which is how the Internet has always developed.

N: How is this different from multi-lateral negotiations?

If you go to a traditional United Nations meeting, like the International Telecommunications Union ITU, it’s organised by country delegations, alphabetised in French, only governments may speak, voting with green and red paddles… it’s very formal and the focus is often negotiated text. At the IGF it’s much less formal, anyone can be recognised. We don’t ask if you’re from the tech sector, government, private sector, press… important questions are raised and lead to informed discussion by anyone who has something informed to say.

N: How would you like to see IGF develop?

From the perspective of BASIS, the voice of the business community at Internet governance meetings, the IGF was originally for five years, then it was reviewed and renewed. We are now in year nine. It’s been hugely successful in my mind. The review process is good, but for the continuation I’d like to see a more sustainable long-term approach, so there is no uncertainty for its future.

N: What about the criticism against IGF: that it is U.S.-centric, does not give tangible results, and that it has no formal influence?

It’s anything but U.S.-centric! Turkey and Brazil are among the most developed countries that have hosted the IGF, previously it’s been in Kenya, Indonesia, India, Azerbaijan. This places IGF in countries where the Internet is not without challenge. It also brings a focus on the development agenda and connecting the unconnected and not just about the next billion Internet users, but the next five billion.

About the outcome; one of the things we wanted to avoid was negotiating language for outcomes. Traditional multilateral meetings which debate word edits and documents do not result in a robust exchange of ideas. There are pros and cons for both approaches. There are places where you want outcomes from negotiated language, but the IGF lasts three days, not three weeks. We don’t have lawyers debating words, it is about building understanding and the exchange of best practice and ideas. This was conscious and by design. That does not mean we can’t have output. You can have compilations of data, suggest research agendas, and programs to produce results. Governments come to the IGF to help make their decision-making process better informed. Can we do a better job of that? Absolutely. The question is how we can accomplish that without getting into the formalities of multilateral negotiations.

And the IGF does have influence on decision-making. Workshop output over the years has been used in emerging economies and developing countries. In the early years, these were very technical: how do you set up an Internet exchange point? These days there are a multitude of different topics. So the influence is not “push a button, the light comes on”, but if you go back and look at the impact over time, it has been huge.


The interview of Dr. Robert Pepper is part of the series Voices from Istanbul published on Netopia Website. Read as well the interviews of Gürkan Özturan, Spokesperson International Communications, the Pirate Party Movement Turkey, and Sally Shipman Wentworth, Vice President Global Policy Development, Internet Society.