Internet governance (IG) is a term first coined by the 2005 meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). In short, IG is the ongoing development and application of procedures, norms, rules, and shared principles that guide the use and development of the internet. IG is especially challenging because – as several of my classmates have explained – the internet isn’t owned or controlled by any one nation but is extremely transnational in nature reaching every corner of the globe. The anarchic nature of the internet provides a unique set of challenges and opportunities for the international community.
One solution to internet governance is Multistakeholder Internet Governance put forth by the Internet Society (ISOC). In brief, the internet has a wide variety of stakeholders ranging from governments and corporations to non-profit organizations, students, and individuals. This approach attempts to leverage the unique perspectives of each group to create an “accountable, sustainable, and effective” solution to internet governance. The multistakeholder approach – it must be noted – is not an end-all be-all solution to the challenges of internet governance in anarchy. Instead, the multistakeholder approach is a tool box of ideas based on the basis that individuals and organizations can and must participate alongside each other to create consensus based policy for the global community. By bringing together different groups from all over the world, any solutions are guaranteed to be flexible but yet strong if built upon a global consensus.
A great example of the multistakeholder model at work is NETmundial, a high level meeting on IG that was convened in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2014. The focus of this meeting was to create a road map for future development of global IG principles and best practices. This meeting focused on bringing together civil society, the private sector, academia, and the technical community to a platform built on participatory plurality. In short, NETmundial furthered the belief that internet governance shouldn’t exclude individuals and states but instead promote universal access, equal opportunity, and high quality internet access. This will then feed into and spark development and inclusion across the globe.
Even though the internet can be a powerful tool for development, the most notable criticism is that the global north tends to control IG institutions. For example, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is currently under contract and funded by the US government. The IANA is responsible for administering some unique internet identifiers (top-level domains like .uk and .com, Internet Protocol (IP) numbers, etc.). Because the internet is a transnational resource, it can be extremely problematic if one nation – the United States – controls an institution and has the power to exclude smaller national and non-government stakeholder groups.