Who governs the internet – how people can have a voice

24 October 2013 - A Workshop on Enhanced Cooperation in Bali, Indonesia


Debates about internet governance are coming to head in the next two years through the WSIS plus 10 process. There are fierce disagreements between states about whether, or how, the internet should be governed. This multi-stakeholder discussion will present outputs from a civil society network, Best Bits, that has brainstormed ideas for effective multi-stakeholder working arrangements that allow different stakeholders, governments, business and civil society, to take an appropriate role in the future of Internet governance.

The context of these discussions is well known: present Internet governance arrangements are a conglomeration of overlapping rules, norms, standards and processes at various levels, that are coordinated only loosely if at all.  Some actors are served well by these arrangements, but others feel they are less well served.  The latter include developing country governments who complain that one country has a disproportionate level of control over critical Internet resources, and civil society stakeholders who see powerful governments and transnational corporations writing their own rules without paying sufficient attention to their human rights impacts.  For some governments, traditional intergovernmental arrangements such as those of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) are seen as more inclusive of excluded voices than the status quo, whereas most other stakeholders disagree due to perceived deficiencies of the ITU's observance of the multi-stakeholder governance principles agreed in the Tunis Agenda.

Calls have therefore emerged for a third way, that would realign the roles of the stakeholders in Internet governance, in fulfilment of the Tunis Agenda's call for a process towards enhanced cooperation on Internet policy issues.  There is less agreement, however, over how this should be carried out in a way that all stakeholders might be able to accept.  Accordingly in May this year a multi-stakeholder Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) met for the first time to develop a set of recommendations on how to fully implement that mandate.  Through the course of the year, the Best Bits group will be working alongside the civil society representatives of the CSTD Working Group to develop its own recommendations on behalf of a broad cross-section of civil society groups from across global North and South.  This session will provide an opportunity for those recommendations to be presented to other stakeholders from the IGF community.

Amongst the questions to be debated at the session are: Where are existing Internet governance arrangements failing, and whom are they failing the most? Is effective multi-stakeholder policy making possible where issues are fiercely contested? How can the IGF evolve and be strengthened? What improvements could be made to these arrangements without setting the scene for an intergovernmental takeover of the Internet? How can the suggestions of the Best Bits group be taken forward (e.g. as appropriate within the CSTD Working Group, the MAG, the UN General Assembly, etc.)?