NETmundial Roadmap: Defining the Roles of Stakeholders in Multistakeholderism

NETmundial, one of the most anticipated events in the Internet governance calendar, will see the global community convening at Sao Paolo, with an aim to establish ‘strategic guidelines related to the use and development of the Internet in the world.’ This post analyses the submissions at NETmundial that focused on Roadmap, towards an understanding of stakeholder roles in relation to specific governance functions and highlighting the political, technical and architectural possibilities that lie ahead.

Introduction

A technically borderless Internet, in a world defined by national boundaries, brings many challenges in its wake. The social, ethical and legal standards of all countries are affected by technical standards and procedures, created by a few global players. This disparity in capacity and opportunities to participate and shape Internet policy, fuelled by Edward Snowden’s revelations led to the development of the Global Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance or NETmundial. Set against, an urgent need for interdisciplinary knowledge assessment towards establishing global guiding principles with respect to the technological architecture and the legal framework of the Internet–NETmundial is seen as a critical step in moving towards a global policy framework for Internet Governance (IG). As stakeholder groups from across the world come together to discuss future forms of governance, one of the most widely discussed issues will be that of Multistakeholderism (MSism).

Multistakeholderism

The governance structure of the Multistakeholder model is based on the notion, that stakeholders most impacted by decisions should be involved in the process of decision making. The collaborative multistakeholder spirit has been widely adopted within the Internet Governance fora, with proponents spread across regions and communities involved in the running, management and use of the Internet. So far, MSism has worked well in the coordination of technical networking standards and efforts to set norms and best practices in defined areas, in the realm of technical governance of the Internet.  However, the extension  of MSism beyond truly voluntary, decentralized and targeted contexts and expanding its applicability, to other substantive areas of Internet Governance is proving a challenge. Beyond defining how the process of policymaking should be undertaken, MSism does not provide any guidance on substantive policy issues of Internet governance. With the increasing impact of Internet technology on human lives and framed against the complexity of issues such as security, access and privacy, the consensus on MSism is further rendered unattainable.

The need for contextualizing the model aside, as with most policy negotiations certain open concepts and words have also prevented agreement and adoption of MSism as the best way forward for IG. One such open and perhaps, the most contentious issue with respect to the legitimacy of MSism in managing Internet functions is the role of stakeholders. A key element of MSism is that decisions will be made by and including all relevant stakeholders. Stakeholder groups are broadly classified to include governments, technical community and academia, private sector and civil society. With each stakeholder representing diverse and often conflicting interests, creating a consensus process that goes beyond a set of rules and practices promising a seat at the negotiation table and is supportive of broad public interest is a challenging task that needs urgent addressing.

This post aims to add to the discourse on defining the role and scope of stakeholders’ decision-making powers, towards a better understanding of the term “in their respective role”. Addressing the complexity of functions in managing and running the Internet and the diversity of stakeholders that are affected and hence should be included in decision making, I have limited the scope of my analysis to cover three broad internet management functions:

  1. Technical: Issues related to infrastructure and the management of critical Internet resources
  2. Policy: Issues relating to the developmental aspects, capacity building, bridging digital divide, human rights
  3. Implementation: Issues relating to the use of the Internet including jurisdictional law, legislation spam, network security and cybercrime

While this may be an oversimplification of complex and interconnected layers of management and coordination, in my opinion, broad categorisation of issues is necessary, if not an ideal starting point for the purpose of this analysis. I have considered only the submissions categorised under the theme of Roadmap, seeking commonalities  across stakeholder groups and regions on the role of stakeholders and their participation in the three broad functions of technology, policy and implementation.

Towards a definition of respective roles: Analysis NETmundial submissions on Roadmap

There were a total of 44 submissions specific to Roadmap with civil society (20) contributing more than any other group including academia (7), government (4), technical community (5), private sector (3) and other (5). MSism sees support across most stakeholder groups and many submissions highlight or agree on participation and inclusion in decision making processes.

Regionally, submissions from North (24) were dominated by USA (10) with contributions cutting across academia (4), civil society (2), technical community (2) and other (2). Brazil (5) contributed the most to submissions from South (15), followed by Argentina (3). The submissions were consistent with the gender disparity prevalent in the larger technology community with only 12 females contributing submissions. An overwhelming number of submissions (38), thought that the multistakeholder (MS) model needs further definition or improvements, however, suggestions on how best to achieve this varied widely across stakeholders and regional boundaries. Only 16 submissions referenced or suggested Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in its present capacity or with an expanded policy role as a mechanism of implementing MSism on the Internet.

Many submissions referred to issues related to the management of critical internet resources (CIRs), the role of ICANN and US oversight of IANA functions. A total of 11 submissions referred to or specified governance processes with respect to technical functions and issues related to critical resources with civil society (5) and academia (3) contributing the most. In an area that perhaps has the most direct relevance to their work, the technical community was conspicuous with just two submissions making any concrete recommendations. The European Commission was the only governmental organisation that addressed this issue, recommending an expansion of the role of IGF.  There were no specific recommendations from the private sector.

The suggestions on oversight and decision making mechanism were most conflicted for this category of Internet functions and included:

16 submissions referred to issues related to policy development and implementation including developmental aspects, capacity building, bridging digital divide and human rights. All submissions called for a reform or further definition of MSism and included recommendations from civil society (5), academia (4), technical community (2), governments (2), private sector (1) and Other (2). All stakeholder groups across regions, unanimously agreed that all stakeholders within their respective role should have a role in decision making and within public policy functions. There was however, no broad consensus on the best way to achieve this.

Specific recommendations and views captured on who should be involved in policy related decision making and what possible frameworks could be developed included:

18 submissions referred to issues related to the implementation of standards including issues relating to the use of the Internet including jurisdiction, law, legislation, spam, network security and cybercrime. All submissions called for a reform or further definition of MSism values and included recommendations from civil society (8), academia (3), technical community (3), governments (2), private sector (1) and other (1). Stakeholders from academia (5), civil society (3) and government (1) collectively called for the reform of ICANN guided by multistakeholder values, but did not specify how this reform would be achieved.

Specific recommendations on the improvements of institutional frameworks and arrangements for issues related to implementation of  standards included:

In summation,  the classification of Internet functions discussed above, presents a very broad view of complex, dynamic and often, interrelated relationships amongst stakeholder groups. However, even within these very broad categories there are various interpretations of how MSism should evolve.

To come back to the very beginning of this post,  NETmundial is an important step towards a global policy framework for Internet governance. This is the first meeting outside formal processes and it is difficult to know what to expect, partly as the expectations are not clear and range widely across stakeholders. Whatever the outcome,  NETmundial’s real contribution to Internet Governance has been sparking anew, the discourse on multistakeholderism and its application on the Internet through the creation of a spontaneous order amongst diverse actors and providing a common platform for divergent views to come together.

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