Global Internet Governance: From Multistakeholder To Autopilot

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In recent decades, far-reaching international cooperation has led to the development of global multistakeholder governance of the internet. While efforts to further enhance cooperative mechanisms are ongoing, one business leader with an inside track suggests that in a couple of decades, the internet will be governing itself.

The 2012 Global INET Forum, organised in Geneva by the Internet Society, convened some of the key actors involved in internet governance today to discuss the progress of multistakeholder cooperation in a roundtable held on 23 April. As these leaders work to improve the process, Burt Kaliski Jr., senior vice president and chief technology officer at Verisign, suggests that the internet itself will have a much bigger role in its own governance in the future. Verisign is a US internet security company that manages the .com and .net domains.

Markus Kummer, vice president of public policy at the Internet Society, moderated the opening roundtable entitled, “Governance in an Internetworked World.” Involved in much of the progress that has been made in the way of multistakeholder internet governance, Kummer highlighted some of the key milestones in recent years.

In 2005, the United Nations-led World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) validated the notion of multistakeholder involvement in internet governance and established a platform for dialogue, Internet Government Forum (IGF). It also recognised a need to go further in enhancing multistakeholder cooperation.

It’s a theme that continues to occupy the policy debate on internet governance. In fact, the UN’s Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) will devote its next session to enhanced cooperation on public policy issues pertaining to the internet on 18 May in Geneva.

In this context, Kummer opened the session asking panellists to, among other questions, assess multistakeholder cooperation in global internet governance today. Video of this conference is available here.

State-of-Play

Raúl Echeberría, executive director of LACNIC, the Latin American regional registry, and board chair of the Internet Society, participated in building the multistakeholder governance system. As a panellist, he said, “Some people sometimes think that the intergovernmental mechanism is static because we have not created new intergovernmental organisations to control the intergovernmental arrangements. But we have experienced a lot of changes.”

“We have IGF, which is very participative and open space for dialogue among all stakeholders. We have built IGFs at the regional level. Organisations like LACNIC have opened the participation to all stakeholders. And we are proactively engaging governments, the private sector, and civil society in the life of the organisation,” Echeberría said.

Several other panellists, such as Lesley Cowley, chief executive of Nominet, which runs the UK registry, agreed that great progress has been made in multistakeholder cooperation. However, Avri Doria, an internet research consultant who also participated in WSIS, cautioned that the fight for participatory internet governance is not over.

“With every new grouping or organisation that comes along, the fight has to happen again. We have to try to get civil society and the private sector included,” Doria said. “We have to find ways to actually enable the civil society participation because even sometimes when the door is open, civil society can’t actually get there.”

Heather Dryden, chair of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Government Advisory Committee (GAC), provided the viewpoint of an intergovernmental governance organisation. Dryden emphasised that the committee continues to grow and called the GAC a “success.” California-based ICANN is the multistakeholder group with technical oversight of the internet domain name system.

“There are more than 100 members or governments and that number is growing. All regions are represented. We also have intergovernmental organisations that are able to represent regional perspectives that are able to participate in the committee and provide expertise,” Dryden said.

In terms of multistakeholder engagement in India, Virat Bhatia, chairman of the industry group FICCI Communications & Digital Economy Committee and president, IEA, South Asia, AT&T, participated on the panel. Although the multistakeholder approach is important, the role of government in the continued development of the internet in developing countries is key.

“The role of governments to get us to the next stage must not be underestimated. I think there is a massive burden on the governments to get us going by way of investment in infrastructure, access policies, regulations, laws, all of this stuff will have to come to bear,” Bhatia said.

Other roundtable participants included Carlos Raúl Gutiérrez, president of Consejo and chairman of SUTEL, Costa Rica’s independent Telecom Regulatory Board; Nii Quaynor, chairman, Ghana National Information Technology Agency (NITA); and Jianping Wu, professor at Tsingua University in China.

And if the Internet Governed Itself…

But perhaps in 20 years, enhancing multistakeholder governance of the internet will be a moot point. Verisign’s Kaliski participated in the closing roundtable entitled, “Game Changers: Where will they take us by 2032?”

“I predict that, by the year 2032, the internet will be self-governing,” Kaliski said, “The internet, the collections of interconnected computer systems will be sufficiently capable, for many parts, to handle its own governance, to steer itself in accordance with its stakeholders.” As much as his vision of the future of internet governance sounds like science fiction, given the speed of digital progress, its plausibility may be scary for some. Video of Kaliski’s prediction is available here.

In an interview with Intellectual Property Watch, Kaliski explained why a self-governing internet would be useful for service providers. “So when I look at a long-term technology strategy and internet governance, I’ve tried to understand how to better facilitate the objectives of multiple stakeholders that are sometimes in conflict with each other, changing over time. Laws change, policies and expectations, and economic value shifts from one place to another.”

“And in such a changing environment you need some parts that you can rely on, that are able to adapt to those interactions,” Kaliski told Intellectual Property Watch. “If the internet can develop more sophisticated governance mechanisms that are predictable and programmable, then they are more adaptable to the changing interest and more accountable.”

William New contributed to this report.

Related Intellectual Property Watch articles here, here, and here.

Rachel Marusak Hermann may be reached at info@ip-watch.org.

Creative Commons License"Global Internet Governance: From Multistakeholder To Autopilot" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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