Markus Kummer, Senior Vice-President, The Internet Society: Top-Ranking Internet, Governance and Policy Authority

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Markus Kummer.

Markus KummerMarkus Kummer is the Internet Society's Senior Vice-President, a role completing in 2014. In 2013, he was asked by the United Nations to chair the preparatory process for the annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held in Bali, Indonesia. He joined the Internet Society in 2011 to assume the position of Vice-President in charge of public policy. Previously, he worked for the United Nations as Executive Coordinator of the Working Group on Internet Governance and subsequently of the Secretariat supporting the Internet Governance Forum.

Markus joined the United Nations in 2004, after holding the positions as eEnvoy of the Swiss Foreign Ministry, during the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). He served as a career diplomat in several functions in the Swiss Foreign Ministry and was posted in Lisbon, Vienna, Oslo, Geneva and Ankara.

Markus is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:01:27: Your role with the Internet Society is completing, can you talk more about that? What led to your last role? What you wish to do next?
"....It followed my UN role where I had been involved in bringing people together so they could talk to each other, and by doing that I learned a lot about the internet and the internet community. Joining ISOC was a natural step. In ISOC I've been involved in public policy, internet governance discussions...."

:03:30: Can you talk about the Internet Society, their past and future importance to business, governments and academia?
"....The Internet Society was set up by some of the internet pioneers (in particular by the two inventors of the underlying internet protocol), back in 1992 in the very early years before the internet really took off. The Internet Society has always been there to promote the internet to bring it to the people....The strength of the Internet Society is it operates at the intersection of public policy, the policy of technology and also of development, so whatever policy recommendation we may issue, they are based on a very solid technological understanding of the internet, and at the same time they have benefited from the reality check of development work on the ground...."

:06:16: You were asked by the United Nations to chair the preparatory process for the annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). What did you hope to accomplish and what were the challenges? What are the main issues in Internet governance and how should they be resolved?
"....Last year was a very challenging year as it coincided with the disclosures about mass surveillance. That caused a seismic shift in the discussions on internet governance and it was a challenge to react to these disclosures, but the Internet Governance Forum stood up to the challenge and faced the discussion....It was possible to have a healthy, robust discussion on these issues, and by doing so I think the Internet Governance Forum proved its value to the community as a platform where you can discuss important and controversial issues in a civilized manner where people don't just talk, they also listen to teach other...."

:14:01: What do you see as the main internet controversies today and their impact on business?
"....One of the major controversies has always been the role of the government that facilitated the invention of the internet and its continued role in the running of the internet, that is, the United States....This is an ongoing discussion which has a long tradition, but at the same time I would like to emphasize the United States has used its stewardship role in a very responsible manner and has never politicized the internet....There are many definitions of what net-neutrality is or is not, but there is no agreement on any definition beyond a given group. It is an obvious discussion that is of importance to business how the network is managed in an appropriate way....There are many issues, almost ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, but what is important I think is that we rebuild trust as a technology that we can use without having to be afraid...."

:18:37: You were involved in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) from the first phase; can you give a quick overview of what this is? What outcomes are important to business and how can ICT executives influence future outcomes?
"....The World Summit on the Information Society was essentially called to bridge the digital divide to help developing countries catch up....I was involved first with the Swiss government and then I was asked by the UN to be the Secretary to the Working Group on Internet Governance, which came up with a working definition on internet governance and report (by and large endorsed by the second phase by the Summit in Tunis in 2005)...The outcome I would say was important to business because it recognized that the existing internet governance arrangements worked well and are effective, and it recognized the need for internet governance arrangements to include non-governmental actors (private sectors, civil society but also the technical community), and the government, in short, could not do it alone. It recognizes that it is a fast-moving technology that needs the involvement of all stakeholders...."

:21:42: Can you describe your most significant and influential achievements and the practical outcomes seen today and forecasted into the future?
"....I see myself and have seen myself mainly has a facilitator and I think the Working Group on Internet Governance was maybe my most significant achievement...."

:23:57: You have an extensive leadership history. Can you share some leadership lessons which may help ICT executives in their roles?
"....I think the most important lesson maybe is listening to people and what they have to say, what their concerns are and taking people seriously. But again I would not be pretentious saying this is a leadership lesson to give to executives who have learned in their own way of how to perform their functions...."

:27:23: Past, present and future, can you name some people who inspire you and why is this so?
"....Nelson Mandela....Nitin Desai....Lynn St. Amour...."

:30:35: What surprises you?
"....A lot of what you hear in the discussions is not new, but there is a repetition of what you have heard before. Sometimes you may be surprised that you feel the people don't listen or don't understand, or you think that it should be well-known by now by everyone....But sometimes you are also surprised in a nice way by just hearing nice stories...."

:33:52: What if any improvements in policy do you think should be made in the next two years and what would you like to see internationally?
"....In some cases solutions are known, but not by everyone, so to improve the general understanding of where solutions can be found - the Internet Governance Forum can play an important role in doing that as a place that can function as a one-stop go-to place where people can get the information needed to find solutions to their problem...."

:36:36: Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials? [See and the Global Industry Council,]
"....I said I would hate to see all of a sudden that computing is seen like the bar or the medical profession where you write an exam (or in some countries where the profession can say how many people are allowed in). I would like to see it continue as a very open profession. But if there is a voluntary agreement on some basic ethical standards, then definitely it would be nice to be supportive of that and I do know there exists initiatives among computing professionals to have this approach. As long as it doesn't have a downside to it and locksout people from the profession...."

:40:00: Markus shares some stories from his extensive speaking, travels, and work (something amusing, surprising, unexpected or amazing).
"....In the early days of Internet Governance discussions there was a delegate who said it's just not right that one country (the US) controls the administration of the DNA. Everybody looked around in surprise, what is he talking about? He was obviously talking about the DNS, the Domain Name System but he confused it with DNA. Now having said that you don't hear that kind of very basic mistake any more. People now on the whole are much better informed than they were 10 or 20 years ago. So that amuses me...."

:44:34: You choose the topic area. What do you see as the top challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?
"....When it comes to the internet I mentioned what I see as the top challenges already. That is basically how you reconcile a borderless technology with a world which is based on national sovereignty and national borders....Outside the internet there are also many challenges. We have to develop mental challenges that the internet can be part of the solutions. Climate change - where the internet contributes to climate change it can also be part of the solution by helping to measure as part of the process of the solution...."

:46:38: If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask, and then what would be your answer?
"....How do you reconcile the borderless technology with a world which is based on national sovereignty and national borders?....Do you stop migration by building fences or by helping countries look at the problems at the root within their own countries?....Can the internet be more part of the solution than part of the problem?...."

54:55: Markus, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your substantial wisdom with our audience.