Too little attention is paid among governance scholars and observers about the use of the convening power by governments, and other actors, to steer progress on certain policy issues. For those interested in the subject, this week provides a living laboratory of how a conference can or cannot impact a global issue, i.e. the future of the Internet and its governance.
Today and tomorrow, Netmundial brings together in Sao Paulo (Brazil) “representatives of civil society, private sector, academia and technical community to establish strategic guidelines related to the use and development of the Internet in the world”. Wired, and others, are calling it the “World Cup” of Internet Governance. The meeting is organized in a partnership between the Brazilian Government (through the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) and ICANN (through/1Net, a forum that “gathers international entities of the various stakeholders involved with Internet governance”).
While initially called for by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to review the impact of the Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, the focus of Netmundial became much broader as it got organized. The meeting this morning opened with an avalanche of opening remarks (35+), from mainly government officials – including President Rousseff. Taken together they provide a comprehensive mapping of the current narratives, concerns and opportunities associated with internet governance, and can be categorized in the following 3 buckets. Of interest is that only few hours prior to the start of Netmundial, the Marco Civil da Internet (aka “Internet Constitution) got adopted by the Brazilian Senate – being referenced by all speakers as the model of Internet policy making – including many of the features identified this morning and summarized below:
- The Internet has moved from a fun project to being crucial to society. Web is an essential public utility;
- The Internet has revolutionized all sectors and is the backbone of the world’s economy;
- Has the potential to eradicate poverty, address inequality, and protect and renew the planet’s resources (post 2015 development agenda);
- Is considered a 21st Century pro-emancipatory/pro-transformative tool;
- Without improved global coordination and collaboration we may not reach that potential…
PRINCIPLES and PROPERTIES (the kind of Internet we want):
Need to assure an Internet that is…:
- Accessible and Affordable– 2/3rd of the world population are not yet connected. Access equals income from the Internet;
- Secure and Trustworthy – Confidence in the Internet and its governance is vital;
- Open – Assure open and interoperable standards (Openstand.org);
- Un-fragmented -
- Human Rights and Rule of Law based – with a particular emphasis on right to privacy and freedom of expression. (Same rights that are protected in off-line world should be protected in an on-line world).
GOVERNANCE PROCESS (Collaborative and Participatory):
Need to develop a roadmap and nurture an environment that is:
- Multi-stakeholder: the concept of multi-stakeholdership is the preferred way to exercise Internet Governance but some indicate it is losing its meaning and there is a need to revisit its meaning;
- (360 degree) Capacity-building: Broadening the participation by developing countries and other actors;
- Multilateral: All governments should have equal weight (equality among states)
- Global and ICANN’s internationalization: ICANN is managing a global resource, so it should be a global institution. ICANN should be guided by its impact of its decisions on humanity as a whole;
- IGF: Need to strengthen the Internet Governance Forum;
- Sustainable and viable: need resources to maintain and sustain internet governance mechanisms (usedomain name fees?);
- Distributed and Plural: no single entity should control the Internet.
None of these narratives and concerns are new. They do reflect an emerging consensus among most speakers on what matters. The challenge of the Netmundial will be to move beyond dialogue and focus on operational ways to start developing a framework for collaborative Internet governance in an innovative, legitimate and effective manner. As Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, indicated: “If we simply do more talking, use more nice words, we will have wasted the opportunity and failed the global community.”