Multistakeholder Internet Governance and Sustainable Development

The internet is a limitless space that allows for vast amounts of data, information, and knowledge to be shared across the globe. Having access to this invaluable resource is crucial to development and promoting progress. As major component of information communication technologies (ICTs), the internet has the ability to reach individuals who otherwise would have been isolated from most of the world. However, there are serious “digital divides” on the national and international levels that hinder inclusive sustainable development.

Internet Governance is a tricky concept to pin down and define. In a world defined by anarchy and lack of an overarching governing body, there is no supreme authority that controls the internet at its current point of innovation and speed. Concerns with internet use and governance began to come to the forefront of security and development attention in the years leading up to the 21st century.

In 1995 the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, published a report called “Falling Through the Net: A Survey of the ‘Have Nots’ in Rural and Urban America”. This report highlighted the major digital divides in internet accessibility in the United States and focused on several groups who were particularly vulnerable to internet exclusion. These groups included people living in poverty in central cities and rural areas, minorities living in rural and central cities, young and old people living in rural areas, and the less-educated in central cities, among others. This report, similar to a preceding report on telecommunication divides on the international level called “The Missing Link”, outlined several strategies that focused on more investments in internet access and strengthening internet infrastructure.

It’s one thing to discuss the governance on the internet on the national scale, and then completely different to talk about it on the international scale. Global internet governance must be approached first through Stephen D. Krasner’s definition of regimes: “sets of implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision making procedures around which actors expectations converge in a given issue-area.” What this implies is that when it comes to the internet, there are different levels of institutions that allow it to function and be used in an international space. The International Telecommunication regime is the oldest and most successful international regime beginning back when telephones were the rising form of technological communication.

Through several transformations, summits, conferences, and organized events the current state of Internet Governance is monitored through several international bodies. The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is the world’s largest gathering of the ‘ICT for development’ community. In their report produced from the 2015 Forum in Geneva, WSIS provided a matrix that links their Action Lines with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This matrix carefully highlights the overlaps between the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs, basically showing how achieving progress in one area will achieve progress in the others.