Multistakeholder Internet Governance

In this blog post I will discuss Multistakeholder Internet Governance, how it is beneficial to the masses and particularly persons with disabilities.


Multistakeholder internet governance is the concept that has been discussed in depth in the past few decades. The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), established in 2006, is a multi-stakeholder space where public policy regarding the internet is discussed, negotiated and decided to work towards the goal of creating a more inclusive, accessible and sustainable Internet. The IGF brings together numerous organizations, stakeholders and groups in order to discuss ideas from technical and operational workings to public policy. Multistakeholder involvement has largely been the method used to discuss such issues as it allows for numerous backgrounds and ideas to collaborate to create solutions from around the world. It is important that members worldwide are able to participate as the Internet is found in every country around the world (albeit unequally) and each of these areas may have different needs/opinions. The benefit to a multistakeholder approach is that allows for ample flexibility to an ever developing field. The multistakeholder model allows for individuals and organization to develop, share and be flexible, allowing for policy to adapt and change when needed. While the Internet is a technology that we use daily, it is a fairly new technology and still not a technology that is equally available around the world. While it has revolutionized the world without a doubt and allowed for powerful positive changes, the need for governance and regulations on it are necessary to ensure the further development of the internet continues to be positive, particularly in developing countries. The WSIS session in Tunis in 2005 established the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as a mechanism to bring stakeholders together every year.

Multistakeholder Internet Governance is seen as a framework informed by three components as outlined by the Internet Society’s Executive Summary.  These components are an “a) opened-ended unleashed innovation (infrastructure), b) decentralized governance institutions (governance) and, c) open and inclusive processes (human).”  [1] These components are centred around the fact that the Internet is an open, free, transnational and interconnected and it is viewed that the multistakeholder approach to internet governance has grown from what has allowed the Internet to thrive in the first place.

The NETmundial initiative allows organizations to participate as multi-stakeholders and congregate to discuss internet governance and policy. It provides a place for flexibility and innovation to thrive. Organizations ranging from governments to the private sector to academics and the tech community come together to contribute to the evolving IG framework. [2] While having a large group debating and conferring on one issue may seem challenging, for the IG field it provides a sense of regulation to an otherwise anarchic system void of a central governing body. Having such a large amount of actors working on policy ensures systems of checks and balances and calls for more negotiation to ensure consensus and less unfair power dynamics, transparency and democracy. Internet Governance ensures that certain privileges remain, such as the internet remaining free and continuing to push for equitable distribution of resources. Currently, equal access to the internet is an important discussion in the international development world as internet access = freedom and freedom = development as per Sen’s beliefs. Internet access allows for knowledge flows, economic transactions, social change, education opportunities and more. The WSIS+10 SDG matrix shows that every Sustainable Development Goal connects to action lines of the WSIS Plan of Action and each goal can be further achieved with the internet being open and free to all, what multistakeholder internet governance fights for. Having access to these possibilities is extremely important for developing countries. Having these opportunities particularly for persons with disabilities is especially important.

However, despite the obvious benefits of Multi-Stakeholder, there is some discussion on whether the multi-stakeholder system is still as functional as it was two decades, or even a decade ago. An article published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation details that behind the benefits of multi-stakeholder internet governance is a lack of accountability and the paradoxical nature of inviting affected communities to help develop policies for the Internet if their recommendations are ignored. However, despite these caviets having this multistakeholder approach is also beneficial to persons with disabilities as it allows them to have an equal voice in discussions regarding internet policy. Similar to the HLPF where the 9 major groups that are recognized by the UN that partake in the forum that contributes to the discussion, being apart of the discussion of internet governance allows for persons with disabilities to introduce language that would aid the efforts of persons with disabilities to get disability-specific policies included.