The multi-stakeholder Internet Governance process is safe from being replaced by a government-only top down process. At least for now.
The Internet as we know it has added huge social and economic value to the world as well as to our personal lives and is governed by a broad multi-stakeholder process including the private sector, technical community, academia, civil society as well as governments. Each group has an important role to play and the success of the process is due in large part to each doing what they do best and working together when and where appropriate. For example, technical issues are best left to the technical community while national security issues are primarily the domain of governments.
This multi-stakeholder, bottom-up, process is distinct from and in contrast to a multi-lateral process that only includes governments and their multi-lateral organizations. Internet governance broadly has been, and needs to remain, a multi-stakeholder process. It’s a proven approach that created the open Internet of interconnected network of networks in which anyone can access content and use applications from anywhere on the globe.
Earlier this month, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) concluded its important quadrennial Plenipotentiary conference in Busan, Korea, where the UN organization’s 193 member countries reviewed the ITU Constitution and Convention, elected its officials and set its agenda for the next four years.
Going into the Plenipot, there were concerns that some governments would use the meeting to impose the traditional top-down, government-led multi-lateral approach and counterproductive regulation to replace the bottom-up multi-stakeholder process. Some observers expressed their concern of a “UN takeover of the Internet.” Others were concerned that heavy handed and blunt regulation, which didn’t recognize the open and global architecture of the Internet, would fragment the Internet into national government controlled Intranets.
The good news is that none of the radical, dangerous or even just counterproductive proposals (such as regulating Internet routing) introduced in Busan survived the Plenipotentiary’s consensus-based process. In fact, the broad consensus acknowledged the importance of Internet governance processes and venues outside of the ITU while, at the same time, recognizing the important role the ITU plays, especially with respect to radio spectrum, capacity building, and working with emerging economies on development agendas.
This success was not by accident. It was the result of more than a year and a half of hard work and patient consultations among policy makers from governments around the world that are dedicated to the Open Internet and multi-stakeholder process. The US Delegation (including private sector, civil society and technical community members as well as government), led by Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda, played a key role in Busan, along with many like minded countries, building a consensus around the value of an Open Internet and the multi-stakeholder process. They changed the debate by understanding the importance of relationships and listening when working with other governments to address genuine concerns, while at the same time, building consensus to reject destructive proposals.
As successful as the Plenipot was, it’s not the end of the story. Governments that want to exert more control over the Internet and replace the multi-stakeholder process are not giving up. They are playing a long game and there are important international meetings in 2015 where they will try again. There is a lot of hard work and difficult discussions to come. But an important lesson learned from Busan is that successful diplomacy and policy through relationships, listening, collaboration and engagement, attributes like the Open Internet itself, can be a winning combination.