Multistakeholder Internet Governance

This blog post discusses multistakeholder internet governance. 

The problem of internet governance is the grand challenge of anarchy problematique: the internet is a global anarchic system that does not have a central governing body. There are strong questions of who should govern the massive system that is the internet (its content, code and physical infrastructure), how they should do it, and with what authority. The World Summit on the Information Society 2003 Declaration of Principles states on the issue of internet governance that “The Internet has evolved into a global facility available to the public and its governance should constitute a core issue of the Information Society agenda. The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations. It should ensure an equitable distribution of resources, facilitate access for all and ensure a stable and secure functioning of the Internet, taking into account multilingualism.” Ensuring equal access to the internet is a huge issue in international development, as the internet facilitates knowledge flows, a growing volume of economic transactions, social connection and change, as well as business activity among many other things. The WSIS+10 SDG matrix shows that every Sustainable Development Goal connects to action lines of the WSIS Plan of Action; each goal can be further achieved with ICTs and the internet.


Multistakeholder internet governance means that national governments, the private sector, and civil society stand on equal ground when participating in the decision making process about internet issues. WSIS established in 2003 the Working Group on Internet Governance to prepare a report for the 2005 summit, in which the group gave a working definition of internet governance as inherently multistakeholder, “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.” The WSIS session in Tunis in 2005 established the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as a mechanism to bring stakeholders together every year “to exchange information and share good policies and practices relating to the Internet and technologies.” The IGF, however, has no decision making mandate and is rather just a forum for discussion of a very wide range of internet governance issues. In reaction to leaked information about the U.S. government’s internet surveillance program, Brazil coordinated with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN, which does technical management of internet names and addresses) to create the NetMundial conference.


One of the interesting things about the topic of internet governance is that it seems paradoxical. How can people who do not have access to the internet possibly engage in informed conversations about internet governance? And if there is a serious knowledge barrier in order to participate that the average person is unlikely to overcome, how inclusive is multistakeholder internet governance? Responsible internet governance relies on the integrity of participating stakeholders to ensure equitable governance.