Multistakeholder Internet Governance and the Digital Divide

When speaking about internet governance, the multi-stakeholder approach is known to work most effectively. This is because multi-stakeholder decision-making is accountable, sustainable, and inclusive.  The multi-stakeholder model can be described as one where individuals and organizations from different realms participate alongside each other to share and develop ideas and consensus policy. The Internet Society describes that the multi-stakeholder approach is widely accepted as the optimal way to make policy decisions for a globally allocated network such as the internet.  This is revealed through declarations, resolutions, and practices international organizations.

Having been used for everything from allocating fair fishing rights to digitizing land registries to developing a code of ethics for international organizations, multi-stakeholder approach works best on issues where:

  1. Decisions impact a wide and distributed range of people and interests,
  2. There are overlapping rights and responsibilities across sectors and borders,
  3. Different forms of expertise are needed, such as technical expertise, and
  4. Legitimacy and acceptance of decisions directly impact implementation.

According to the Internet Society, the multi-stakeholder approach “allows us to protect and further develop the complex systems we rely on while allowing those systems to go on working.”

We live in an increasingly connected, globalized world.  The internet is an important tool that was first developed through the collaboration of the public and private sector (i.e. academia and civil society).  The governance of the internet is operated across borders and by a variety of stakeholders.  These stakeholders have created an open, distributed, interconnected, and transnational internet governance system.  The image below shows this complex system. 


It is because of this collective decision making by the multiple stakeholders that the internet is an open tool that is thriving and evolving.  Additionally, tools such as the NETmundial Solutions Mapwere created to ignite collaboration and development around internet governance issues. 

The next challenge for the internet is to reach those who do not yet have access.  Today, around four billion people, mostly in developing countries, are still without access to the internet.  Irving describes the inequality between populations with and without access to the internet as the “digital divide.”  Without access to the internet, individuals are missing out on life-altering benefits such as access to financial services, health, and education. Universal, affordable internet access is part of the SDGs and it is up to multi-stakeholders from governments, companies, local and international organizations, and civil society to ensure more people get online.  The image below from the World Economic Forum shows that there are four main reasons why so many people are offline: Infrastructure, affordability, skills, and local adoption and use. 


It is up to both governments and businesses to work towards introducing policies that aim to improve infrastructure coverage and quality, provide financial assistance to those who cannot afford to get online, and set up public Wi-Fi.