On November 19, Minsk hosted the fourth Belarus Internet Governance Forum, a high-profile gathering attended by the leading experts on internet governance, government officials, representatives from international organizations and the online business community.
Belarus IGF is the biggest platform in the Republic of Belarus for promoting open dialogue on all aspects related to the development of the internet. It attracts participants from the business and IT communities, as well as government officials, civil society leaders, non-profit organizations, internet activists and rank-and-file internet users. More than 400 participants from all across the world attend the forum each year, with its geography spreading from CIS countries to Canada and Australia. The company hoster.by acted as the forum’s organizer.
This year, Belarus IGF’s agenda focused on the topics regarding internet balkanization in terms of technology, business, politics, language and culture, changes in media consumption patterns and associated risks, internet as an inclusive environment, and new technology for digital transformation.
The forum’s business program opened with a panel session titled Internet Balkanization, moderated by APTLD General Manager Leonid Todorov. While many countries support the ideas of digital or online sovereignty, experts have been pointing to the danger of internet balkanization in terms of technology, business, politics, language and culture. This offered participants at the session an opportunity to discuss the current threats and challenges that have prompted governments to insulate their national internet segments from the global web. Another topic covered at the session was related to the possible consequences of content blocking and filtering solutions.
Coordination Center for TLD .RU/.РФ Director Andrei Vorobyov contributed to this debate. In his presentation, he said that the internet is a product of globalization. The world however has changed: reactionary, centrifugal forces are gaining momentum on the back of economic and geopolitical changes. These processes affect all areas of life, including the internet.
“At its inception, the internet was a trusted environment that could be accessed only by a selected few. Today, when entire countries have become dependent on the internet, including their power grids, banking operations, transportation, etc., it makes every sense for governments to try and make these segments safer. However, we have to be mindful that trust is a core principle for the internet and has to be restored. After all, internet balkanization is largely driven by the deficit of trust online,” Andrei Vorobyov said.
He went on to draw the attention of the participants to the fact that internet balkanization has a corporate dimension, in addition to national and regional ones. It all started with the emergence of mutually incompatible platforms, such as Apple’s iOS and Android, and continues to this day with the introduction of DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) protocol by the leading browsers, including Google Chrome and Mozilla. As a result, just a few corporations are taking over the task of processing massive amounts of DNS protocol, something that used to be done by local internet providers. “This creates new risks. In fact, what we are witnessing is the emergence of a separate internet segment, but this is taking place at the corporate rather than the national level. This is a natural process that unfolds around the world with varying intensity,” the Coordination Center director pointed out.
Hoster.by CEO Sergei Povalishev presented Jovan Kurbalija’s book Internet Governance that was published in Belarus in the Russian language. Coordination Center for TLD .RU/.РФ assisted its colleagues in Belarus in preparing this publication. In fact, the Coordination Center translated and published Jovan Kurbalija’s Internet Governance in 2018. It was the second time Diplo’s bestselling book was published in Russia at the Coordination Center’s initiative. The first Russian edition dates back to 2010, and was timed to coincide with the first Russian Internet Governance Forum (RIGF 2010).
Many countries and regions across the world have their own internet governance forums that attract major international organizations (ICANN, RIPE NCC) and technology companies. Russia held its tenth RIGF in April 2019. It is one of the biggest internet governance forums in Eastern Europe. Every year it brings together participants from Russia and other countries. Platforms of this kind are important and useful for strengthening mutual understanding between representatives of government institutions, businesses and civil society and helping various countries agree on common positions and overcome common challenges.