This week, the world’s eyes will turn to Brazil, host of the NETmundial Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance. This meeting is an important opportunity to continue discussions on key Internet governance principles and a roadmap for future action.
We are in the midst of a very busy global policy dialogue on Internet governance and, as the discussion grows, it is more important than ever to be clear about what is meant by the phrase “Internet governance.” This is a discussion that has its origins in the 2003-2005 UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and that has, in the years since, evolved as dynamically as the Internet itself. This year is a particularly busy one for those of us who are focused on these issues – an inflection point that could shape the future of the Internet and its governance.
As we look forward to NETmundial, it is important that we consider the broader context: Internet governance is not about the role of any one stakeholder group (governments, technical organizations, private enterprise, civil society, etc.) but is rather about how we all work together to tackle the challenges that emerge in the context of the Internet. Whether the issues are related to ensuring the robustness and resiliency of Internet security and privacy, advancing the deployment and development of core Internet infrastructure, or any number of other concrete challenges, we need to come together to address issues in ways that do not undermine the fundamental design principles of the Internet. Too much focus on static definitions of the roles and responsibilities of any one stakeholder group could distract our attention from achieving the overall balance that is needed for any successful governance system.
We recognize that this meeting has had a fast-paced preparatory process and that the organizers have made important efforts to enable global, multistakeholder participation. In many ways, this innovative process offers a test case for the longer process of achieving real stakeholder engagement and participation. As with any new event of this kind, there are important lessons from NETmundial that should be learned in terms of transparency, meaningful participation of all stakeholders, and true consensus-building.
In preparation for the meeting, NETmundial organizers held an open call for content contributions to create an outcome document to guide the discussions. To support the process, the Internet Society submitted a number of comments and worked closely with the Internet Technical Community on a contribution that outlines a set of principles that have promoted the development of the Internet since its inception. In this regard, we are pleased that the concepts of openness and transparency of Internet policy and technical development processes are reflected in the draft outcome document. At the same time, however, we believe that important improvements to the outcome document are needed in order to achieve clarity of scope and to ensure that NETmundial positively contributes to the ongoing Internet governance dialogue.
- The document would benefit from a clarification on the scope of “Internet governance.” Grounding this text in the WSIS Tunis Agenda, particularly in reference to the definition of Internet governance (Tunis Agenda, paragraph 34), is important. In the absence of such clarification, the intent of the document is unclear and there is a persistent confusion throughout the sections between the governance of public policy issues and the technical development processes of the Internet.
- The multistakeholder model of Internet governance should advance the public interest, support the openness of the Internet, and enable the free flow of information. It respects the responsibilities of diverse stakeholders and is based on open processes which require participants to inform themselves to appropriately engage in the discussion. Those concepts should be reintroduced into the text.
- The concepts of openness, meaningful participation, transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness are critical for Internet governance as well as for the continued technical development and deployment of a global, interoperable Internet. It is important, however, to recognize the diversity of processes within the current Internet governance ecosystem and that the mechanisms for honoring these principles may differ among organizations.
The references to strengthening the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) are very helpful and positive. The IGF is an indispensable element of the ecosystem that can address existing questions and identify emerging issues, while coordinating dialogues at international, regional, and local levels. We need to fully take the work of these groups into account, recognize the progress made, and learn from the collective multistakeholder dialogue that groups like the IGF have fostered. As such, this document should focus on the need to strengthen and improve existing Internet governance arrangements rather than calling for the creation of new and possibly duplicative ones. Efforts devoted to developing new mechanisms would take valuable expertise and resources away from strengthening existing arrangements like the IGF and could, ultimately, be counterproductive.
The result of the discussions at the NETmundial meeting will provide an important contribution to the broader Internet governance dialogue. The work accomplished in Sao Paulo must help inform the review of the WSIS and the work of the IGF in Istanbul. This is a time for critical reflection and action and the discussions in Brazil will provide significant input to this process; but, these are not the only inputs.
As we all continue to put the various pieces together, we must remember how the Internet has transformed societies and has empowered people all around the world. We must remember how multistakeholder governance has allowed a diversity of actors to come together, and to exchange and share ideas that have contributed to the evolution of the Internet. And, we must continue to encourage an inclusive exchange of knowledge and know-how.
We look forward to listening to the questions, concerns, and ideas of all stakeholders over the course of NETmundial and to working collaboratively towards workable solutions. For more information see our NETmundial page.