High Level Session on the Future of Internet Governance

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[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

A fragmented and divided Internet is no longer just an abstract concept, it is a rapidly evolving reality, warned Mr Vint Cerf (Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google). Cyberspace needs global solutions for flexible, future-proof, and international governance frameworks to keep the Internet open and interoperable, because many new and existing businesses are built upon this foundation.

There is a need for a more interdisciplinary digital co-operation and expert dialogue at the IGF, but it is not enough alone, noted Mr Ignazio Cassis (Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland). The IGF Plus Model, suggested by the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, could improve the multistakeholder dialogue and decision-making. Cassis brought the example of the Geneva Dialogue on responsible behaviour in cyberspace, launched by the Swiss Foreign Ministry to engage all stakeholders worldwide into a dialogue and a call to come up with guidelines for action. He also expressed the hope that Geneva may turn into a hub for global digital transformation and technology debates.

Mr Liu Zhenmin (UN Under-Secretary-General) shared his view on the three pillars of future Internet governance: (a) Take care of concerns of multi-stakeholders; (b) think of alternative set of rules regulating different areas for Internet-related activities; (c) apply existing rules , for instance, international law. The IGF Plus model can serve as a platform to uphold these pillars and the UN is ready to support its work. Zhenmin noted that now member states are divided on the issues of cybersecurity and cybercrime in the UN committees, so the IGF may become a place for a greater governmental involvement to overcome such division through discussions. By 2025, the World Summit of Internet Society (WSIS) is going to review the IGF to try and make it more effective in meeting the international community’s expectations.

The panel also raised the issue of meaningful connectivity for future Internet governance. Mr Tim Berners-Lee (Inventor of the WWW and Co-Founder of the World Wide Web Foundation) noted that to close the digital divide in underserved regions, we need to provide a reliable connection, a reasonable bandwidth in both directions. Contract for the Web is laying a global plan for this.

There is no agreement on what is the main issue of Internet governance. The Internet itself is not governed traditionally, there are two layers: the technical part governed by organisations around the world, and the platforms built on top of it. Many of the discussions that arise around the Internet are about the use of private data, noted Mr Göran Marby (CEO and President, ICANN). ‘The funny thing with the Internet is that no one owns it, and everybody owns it. You all have your own personal Internet: go to your own website, create your own websites, use your social media and put content there.’The next billion users will not be the elites of the world, will not live in cities, will not have English as a native language or even as a second language, and will want to use the Internet according to their local value and principles. And for that reason, we need to review technical, economic, and financial models of Internet governance in order to have the next billion online.

Another challenge for future Internet governance is the promotion of the free flow of data across borders because data itself will be the source of added value, and will drive our economy and society forward, said Ms Makiko Yamada (Vice Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan).

The last issue raised during the opening remarks was the idea of an actually open Internet. ‘We really have a crisis in global governance, we cannot have this discussion about an open Internet with only 30%, elite of the globe's population.’ said Ms Alison Gillwald (Research ICT Africa). She pointed to the problems of imposing taxes on poor people for using social networks instead of taxing the platforms; device availability; and poor private governance of Internet resources, such as the recent sale of the .org domain name.

The notion of a single regulatory regime for the Internet is not going to work, because it is used in a variety of ways, and the business models vary layer to layer. One of the probable solutions can be a shared responsibility of different international organisations and institutions in addressing Internet governance issues. An alternative option is the individual user’s responsibility for the development and usage of the Internet, with netizens holding governments and companies accountable for their policies and actions. At this point, Gillwald noted that large numbers of marginalised people who come online are unable to exercise their digital rights, even if they exist in codes of conduct. She concluded by stating ‘We have this digital inequality paradox, that as we bring people more online we're increasing inequalities, not only between the connected and unconnected but those people who are passively consuming tiny bits of data and those who are actually prospering and creating businesses with this data and content.’

By Ilona Stadnik

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