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It IS diplomacy, stupid!

Published on 23 October 2013
Updated on 19 March 2024

Today I was an e-squatter, a new type of conference participant. In big events, like the Internet Governance Forum, with more than 2000 participants and many parallel sessions, it’s possible to find a conference room with good wifi connection and do some work back home. My guess is that at least half of the participants in today’s meetings were physically in the room but virtually somewhere else.

I e-squatted in Room 2 at the Bali International Conference Center. The Internet connection was good and I could work on the Vanuatu launch of the CD Pacific project.  Workshops were going on. Nobody asked me anything. Workshop organisers were happy that there was one additional person in the room – in these types of meeting the number of ‘heads’ in attendance is a criterion for success.

Today, in one of ‘squatting’ workshops, I kept hearing words like negotiations, persuasion, engagement, understanding, consensus, and listening…. all words I usually hear at the diplomatic training meetings I often attend. I was curious and looked at the IGF programme.

The session – where I was sitting –  could not have been more technical: WS 49 IXPs: Building, Sustaining, and Governing Them. IXPs are Internet eXchange Points which should preserve traffic within a country or community. If you want to send an e-mail from Bali to Jakarta it should not be routed via Australia and Japan, which could happen on the Internet networks. An Indonesian IXP should keep traffic in the country, save money, and reduce use of the bandwidth.

It sounds like simple, common sense. But as we know, common sense is not that common. As Dan McGarry from Vanuatu said, they needed 4 years to convince all Internet players  to create Vanuatu’s IXPs and 14 days to install them technically. Speaker by speaker narrated similar experiences from Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The underlying message was that it is about engaging, listening, and persuading. It is about diplomacy. After this session I will have to re-draw my drawing. The line between two dots is not straight, even when dealing with rather straightforward technical issues.

It IS diplomacy, stupid!

2 replies
  1. Jovan Kurbalija
    Jovan Kurbalija says:

    Thank you Nurani. Your
    Thank you Nurani. Your session was important for me. It addressed one of my concerns as a citizen and father of 12-years old daughter. Today, there is a risk of some sort of logical positivism or ‘scientification’ of social life under the slogan: ‘with enough processing power we can sort out all problems of the world’. You can hear it among techno-enthusiast (mainly form Silicon Valley). It is a VERY risky tendency. Similar – often genuine – approaches form the 19th century (to solve social problems by using scientific methods) inspired some of the most traumatic experiments in bloody and messy 20th century. At your session, there were technical people who discussed technical issue by striking the right balance among understanding of technology, using evidence to inform their policy (latency, speed) and being aware of our limits to influence social dynamics. The most we can do is to be part of the process and guide it whenever we can by using ‘networking’ or ‘diplomacy’ or..you name it, ultimately by listening carefully, developing empathy with our interlocutors and trying to persuade them. The wisdom of technical people sitting at your session was VERY re-assuring, especially, in the current very turbulent e-times. I am looking forward to the next opportunity to interact with ‘peering gang’! In the meantime here is one attempt to reflect on persuasion in diplomacy: https://www.diplomacy.edu/resource/persuasion-the-essence-of-diplomacy/

  2. Nurani Nimpuno
    Nurani Nimpuno says:

    Very insightful observations.
    Very insightful observations. And you’re right, IXPs are not about the technical equipment. It’s about the community building, about acting as a catalyst, about getting competitors to exchange traffic because it’s mutually beneficial and it’s good for the Internet! You can use technical arguments about latency, speed, control to convince people that it’s better to exchange traffic locally, or you can use economic arguments about not allowing a country’s money to leave the country to pay for expensive transit connections that go through the US or Europe and rather spending it to improve local infrastructure. And that all makes sense. But at the end of the day, you need to talk to people to get things happening. We call it networking. You call it diplomacy! 🙂

    I really enjoyed our discussions in the session. You’re welcome to e-squat in our sessions any time Jovan. 🙂

    And you know what, you should come to an European Peering Forum sometime to see the “diplomacy” in action. I think you’d enjoy it!
    Nurani Nimpuno

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