On the Ground in Dubai

A quick update from Dubai, and apologies for not providing one earlier. Our days are long typically starting before 8 and running until 10 or later. Fortunately we get a lunch break that is long enough to eat and decompress a bit from the morning’s sessions. But we know dinner is a long way off.

Important portions of this conference are being webcast, recorded, and transcribed. This is significant, and may give the world its first opportunity to peer inside an international treaty conference, in real time. If you happen to watch the live feed, view a recording, or read a transcript, you might be surprised by the deferential language, style of interaction, and pace of events; unless you are in the diplomatic corps.

Member States intervene to express their position, employing language and protocol that is familiar to them. At the IETF, we hum, but in both cases the intention is to give the chair a sense of the room. The chair’s responsibility is to take that sense, encourage compromise, and move the meeting forward. In the case of the WCIT, the chair, Mohamed Nasser AL-GHANIM of the United Arab Emirates, has been fair, skillful, and impartial. As in the technical world, such a chair is frequently the driving force to success.

Steering an assemblage of nearly 200 nation states is no small matter and is complicated by the diversity of subjects that will be discussed and the range of views found in contributions. Think of this Conference as an IXP with today’s traffic loads, packets flying around destined for  different continents, each requiring a bit of special attention, all managed by a single server from a decade ago and you get an idea of what the Chair must contend with.

Our hosts, the United Arab Emirates, are gracious, the facilities unparalleled, and support services superb. As an all-too-regular attendee of large-scale events, I find the facility impressive and well-suited to this Conference. Rooms are well-equipped with all the accoutrements of a modern day event including power, wifi, and a range of eateries at the venue. These may seem like inconsequential things, but their availability and quality facilitate exchange of information and dialogue in a relaxed setting.

Given the diversity of opinion, strength of position, and limited time, I expect the facilities themselves will play a significant role in the outcome. Of course, the delegates and their mutual desire for reaching common ground are important, but that is a given. A superb chair and equally superb facilities are not and we are most fortunate to have both in Dubai.

Progress has been made but this is a complex Conference. It will be some time before a better sense of the larger room will become apparent and predictions can be made.

I’ll provide updates as and when I can.

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