Ten Answers From NETmundial

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By Juan Alfonso Fernández González

In a previous [1] Inside Views article in Intellectual Property Watch, 10 questions were raised with the hope that they would be answered in the “Global Multisectoral Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance,” also known as NETmundial.

Well, NETmundial was held last week on 23 and 24 April, and could be given many adjectives, one of them that it was original.

After the opening ceremony and the welcome speeches, four microphones were set up so that representatives of civil society, governments, the academic and technical sector and enterprises could, through brief interventions, express their views on the final document, of which a draft was distributed at the beginning of this process.

The interventions had to be really short: initially a time limit of 3 minutes per intervention, which after several iterations was reduced to 30 seconds, in order to allow more participants to express their opinion.

This is, faced with the decision between breadth and depth it was opted for the first, which resulted that the discussion of substantive issues was superficial.

Also, the method for writing the final report can be described as original, since it was by a closed drafting group – in contrast to the established multilateral practices -, which decided, in a somewhat arbitrary way, what criteria to include or not of those raised by the participants in the four microphones.

This is how the final document which was named as the “NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement”, – a name that is difficult to translate to other languages – was obtained [2].

But the difficulty is not only in trying to translate into other languages the English word “multistakeholder”. The very concept itself needs to be clarified. Therefore, the first question of the previous article was:

Question 1: What exactly is the multistakeholder model of internet policymaking and governance?

NETmundial: This question was not answered.

The word “multistakeholder” appears in the final document on countless occasions qualifying practically everything, starting with the title: “multistakeholder statement”, and continuing with: “global multistakeholder meeting”, “multistakeholder fashion”, “multistakeholder framework”, “multistakeholder processes”, “multistakeholder ecosystem”, “multistakeholder model”, multistakeholder decision-making and policy formulation”, multistakeholder mechanisms”, multistakeholder manner”, up to finishing with multistakeholder communities”.

But despite this litany, nowhere in the document is the meaning of these phrases clarified.

 

Question 2: Will the definition agreed by the heads of state and government in the two phases of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) on the roles and responsibilities of the different actors with regard to internet governance no longer be valid?

NETmundial: It was not clear.

On the one hand, it seems that there is a wish to turn back what was agreed in WSIS when it is pointed out that the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders should be interpreted “in a flexible manner.”

But on the other hand, in the points to be further discussed beyond NETmundial is that of “different roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in Internet governance, including the meaning and application of equal footing.”

 

Question 3: Will the dominant internet companies have the same roles and responsibilities as states in internet-related public policy issues?

NETmundial: It seems so.

The final document notes that the international public policies related to the internet must be developed by consensus, and with the participation of all stakeholders.

This contrasts with the concept agreed at the World Summit on the Information Society that internet-related public policy issues are the sovereign right of states.

 

Question 4: What will be the international internet governance institutional framework?

NETmundial: This question was not answered.

The final document merely states that the proposed road map is to “outline possible steps forward in the process of continuous improvement the existing Internet governance framework.”

 

Question 5: What will be the role of the United Nations and its agencies such as the ITU, UNESCO, WIPO and the regional economic commissions?

NETmundial: It seems that none.

The final document does not mention even once the United Nations or any of its agencies.

 

Question 6: Will other equally important rights such as the right to development, the right to knowledge and the respect for the cultural and linguistic diversity and identity also be defended?

NETmundial: Some are mentioned and others not.

The right to development and the respect, protection and promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity are mentioned.

Respect for cultural identity and the right to knowledge are not mentioned.

 

Question 7: Will the issue of the inequity of the internet economic model, where all payments flow from the underdeveloped countries towards the developed countries despite the fact that the information flows in both directions, be addressed?

NETmundial: It was not addressed.

The issue of the inequity of the internet economic model that adversely affects the underdeveloped countries was totally ignored. However, the dispute over the economic relationship between the large transnational communications corporations and the monopolistic internet companies, the issue known as “net neutrality” was discussed, although its mention was diminished in the final document.

 

Question 8: Will the issue of the economic sustainability of Internet in the developing countries be examined, with the aim that the internet itself could generate the resources for its development both of infrastructure and of contents?

NETmundial: It was not examined.

It is surprising that this important issue has been completely ignored, not only in the final document, but in the interventions made.

Everyone talks about that internet has a “vibrant” economy, but no one points out that this only happens in developed countries where the advertising industry is able to finance the development of content and applications.

But in the rest of the world it is not like that: How are the highly demanded local content and applications financed in the underdeveloped countries? Can anyone point to a website of an underdeveloped country that is able to sustain itself economically?

 

Question 9: Will the need to strengthen international collaboration and increase the amount of aid from developed to underdeveloped countries for the development of their internet infrastructure be discussed?

NETmundial: It was not discussed.

The only mention of the issue of financing was in relation to the participation of stakeholders in internet governance.

If a topic as important as the international collaboration to help underdeveloped countries the development of its Internet infrastructure is ignored, how to connect to the Internet the majority of the population of this planet who still does not?

 

Question 10: Will the commercialisation of the internet continue, turning the users into paying customers and promoting in a hegemonic a way single culture or will internet become a tool for development, for human enrichment and the dissemination of cultural and linguistic diversity?

NETmundial: A road was opened.

It will depend on us, the “stakeholders”, to ensure that the road leads to the internet we all crave and need.

 

Juan Alfonso Fernández González is a Senior Advisor in the Ministry of Communications of Cuba and an Assistant Professor in the University of Informatics Sciences. He was a member of the United Nations Working Group on Internet Governance and participated actively in the negotiating process for the outcome documents of both phases of the World Summit on the Information Society. He is also a FIDE International Chess Master.

References:

[1]       Ten Questions About Internet Governance, Intellectual Property Watch, April 22, 2014.

http://www.ip-watch.org/2014/04/22/ten-questions-about-internet-governance/

[2]    NETmundial final document.

http://netmundial.br/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/NETmundial-Multistakeholder-Document.pdf

 

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