What do you know about Luxembourg? If you’re anything like me, very little. Which is perhaps appropriate because Luxembourg is a very little country. When it comes to main roads, there is such little room that the country only manages to get up to A6. And I haven’t found the A2 or A5 yet.
But it is Luxembourg with its population of 440,000 that the organisation which oversees the Internet, ICANN, has decided to host one of its bi-annual meetings - and a crucial one at that.
It couldn’t have chosen a better place. Luxembourg exhibits such a gentle demeanour that you appear to have little choice but to relax. Contained in a vast forest and squashed between three countries, it has managed to pick up the best parts of each: French joie de vivre; Belgian pleasantness; and German efficiency.
An airport taxi driver refused to take me to my hotel because he knew the hotel ran a free bus service from the airport. So he got out his cab and called them for me. I tried to get another cab to the exhibition where ICANN is holding the meeting and was advised it would be just as good to catch the 16 bus. Twice an hour on a Sunday (five during the week) and absolutely totally punctual. I waited 20 minutes at the bus stop this evening just to enjoy the sensation of a pleasurable bus ride. It arrived 6.10pm on the dot.
All this intoxicating pleasantness is just as well because ICANN has some very choppy waters ahead. Shadowing everything is the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). This is the formal UN group that will decide on exactly how it feels the internet should be run in the future. Its report will be published in a week’s time.
That report won’t mean the end of ICANN, but it could chop it off at the ankles by handing fundamental parts of the internet infrastructure to another body, most likely the ITU.
As a result, ICANN is desperately trying to iron out all the age-old problems it still has and so appear authoritative. And all the people it is in dispute with are desperately trying to find agreement with ICANN after years of arguments because they view it as better the devil you know. And they’ve all got four days to do it. Luxembourg’s tonic will have to be drunk deeply.
A mutual friend
The seniority of people at ICANN bash is low-key but still evident. As such, I decided to sit down and eat my lunch in the partially enclosed top area of the conference restaurant nominally reserved for the ICANN Board and staff.
I found myself sitting next to Olof Nordling. Neither of us knew who each other were so Olof kindly told me he was ICANN’s manager of policy development co-ordination based in Brussels. I was about to tell him who I was when he was helpfully informed by a man with white hair and a hearing aid sat next to him: “You should be warned that you are talking to a dangerously one-sided reporter from a scurrilous and biased publication.” As long-time chairman of ICANN, Vint Cerf has overseen enough dangerously one-sided and scurrilous behaviour for his word to be taken as gold.
Battle of the beers
It just so happens that the most exciting thing Luxembourg has done for 10 years was also going on in the conference centre alongside ICANN today. The results of the country’s vote on the new European Treaty (famously turned down by the French and Dutch) was due late afternoon and a whole room complete with TV cameras had been set up for the event, stuck in the middle of the two sides of the ICANN conference.
Numerous politicians and media types were hanging around for the vote which came in as a Yes with around 57 per cent. Not a massive win, but enough for the country’s prime minister to not have to come good on his promise to resign. The event came complete with its own bar which I, of course, strolled happily into only to be extremely pleasantly removed by a security guard who had seen my ICANN badge and wanted to assist in taking me to the actual ICANN bar, a five minute walk away. My feigned ignorance of French bit back as he cunningly mistook me for someone who would only have been disappointed were I not surrounded by internet geeks on a few plastic tables while supping my half of German lager.
Sparks fail to fly
To make myself feel better, I sat in on a bit of a closed session of ICANN’s government advisory committee (GAC) - something they hate and which a German reporter had told me earlier they are very strict about. She was forcibly ejected last time. But with goodwill flowing like sweet honey, even this small pleasure was ruined by everyone being nice to one another. What’s the point in having a closed session if you don’t start dishing the dirt?
Hopefully that will all change tomorrow with the official opening and a “Gala dinner” at the Casino in town. A few cocktails should start the old rivalries going.