Multistakeholder Internet Governance

In this week’s class we discussed the fact that no one “owns” the internet and because it is used by people all over the world and surpasses the level of any nation state, its governance is quite complicated. With the internet, states are able to interact in a global sphere but without the guidance or rules that come with an all-encompassing governing body. Although the internet originated in the United States through DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), they only owned the infrastructure not the protocols. The internet was initially designed as and intended to be a research and military communication mechanism that could withstand a nuclear attack. However, after the National Science Foundation invested in the internet, its use rapidly expanded and it became internationally commercialized with the help of companies. Naturally, the more people that used the internet, the more valuable it became to everyone as a global resource, but still a lack of internet governance was evident. “Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet” (Class Notes). In 1992, a movement started to institutionalize the process in a way that would provide private governance of the internet rather than by a government. This also internationalized the internet further. Now in every country you can determine who owns the telecom infrastructure but the internet remains unowned. In 1998, a nonprofit organization called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) was set up in California as a major experiment in internet governance. It was a stable and secure regime with all stakeholders having a role to play and serving its purpose, but it didn’t go far enough in further developing the internet, so there remained pressure to create new forces and a multistakeholder system (Internet Society).

After the 2005 Summit in Tunis, the WSIS attempted to tackle this challenge by creating a multistakeholder organization called the IGF (Internet Governance Forum). The IGF “serves to bring people together from various stakeholder groups as equals, in discussions on public policy issues relating to the Internet. While there is no negotiated outcome, the IGF informs and inspires those with policy-making power in both the public and private sectors” (IGF). It was initially given a five year mandate and was renewed after the first. Now, the IGF continues to thrive with its persistent governing structure as a multistakeholder advisory group and has established dynamic coalitions that discuss and share information and best practices with one another. Therefore, to date the IGF has been the most successful creation for instilling “ a common understanding of how to maximize Internet opportunities and address risks and challenges that arise” (IGF).