Centre for Internet & Society

Internet governance, for long a global exercise, has found new awareness within national frameworks in recent times. Especially relevant for developing countries, effective national IG mechanisms are important to raise awareness and ensure multi-stakeholder participation at technical, infrastructural and public policy levels.

This post is a surface-level overview of national IG bodies, and is intended to inform introductory thoughts on national IG mechanisms.

A Short Introduction

The previous decade has seen a proliferation of regional, sub-regional and national initiatives for Internet governance (IG). Built primarily on the multi-stakeholder model, these initiatives aim at creating dialogue on issues of regional, local or municipal importance. In Asia, Bangladesh has instituted a national IGF, the Bangladesh IGF, with the stated objective of creating a national multi-stakeholder forum that is specialized in Internet governance issues, and to facilitate informed dialogue on IG policy issues among stakeholders. India, too, is currently in the process of instituting such a forum. At this juncture, it is useful to consider the rationale and modalities of national IG bodies.

The Internet has long been considered a sphere of non-governmental, multi-stakeholder, decentralized, bottom-up governance space. The Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, John Perry Barlow’s defiant articulation of the Internet’s freedom from governmental control, is a classic instance of this. The Internet is a “vast ocean”, we claimed; “no one owns it”.[1] Even today, members of the technical community insist that everyone ought to “let techies do their job”: a plea, if you will, of the complexity of cyber-walls and –borders (or of their lack).

But as Prof. Milton Mueller argues in Ruling the Root, the Internet has always been a contentious resource: battles over its governance (or specifically, the governance of the DNS root, both the root-zone file and the root servers) have leapt from the naïveté of the Declaration of Independence to a private-sector-led, contract-based exploitation of Internet resources. The creation of ICANN was a crucial step in this direction, following arbitrary policy choices by Verizon and entities managing the naming and numbering resources of the Internet.

The mushrooming of parallel tracks of Internet governance is further evidence of the malleability of the space. As of today, various institutions – inter-governmental and multi-stakeholder – extend their claims of governance. ICANN, the World Summit of Information Society, the World Conference on International Telecommunications, the Internet Governance Forum and the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation under the ECOSOC Committee for Science, Technology and Development are a few prominent tracks. As of today, the WSIS process has absorbed various UN special bodies (the ITU, UNESCO, UNCTAD, UNDP are but a few), with the UNESCO instituting a separate study on Internet-related issues. A proposal for a multilateral Committee on Internet-Related Policies remains stillborn.

Amongst these, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) remains a strong contender for a truly multi-stakeholder process facilitating dialogue on IG. The IGF was set up following the recommendation of the Working Group of Internet Governance (WGIG), constituted after the Geneva phase of the WSIS.

Rationale: Why Have National IG bodies?

The issue of national multi-stakeholder cooperation/collaboration in IG is not new; it has been alive since the early 2000s. The Tunis Agenda, in paragraph 80, encourages the “development of multi-stakeholder processes at the national, regional and international levels to discuss and collaborate on the expansion and diffusion of the Internet as a means to support development efforts to achieve internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals” (emphasis supplied).

In its June 2005 Report, the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) emphasizes that “global Internet governance can only be effective if there is coherence with regional, subregional and national-level policies”. Towards this end it recommends that “coordination be established among all stakeholders at the national level and a multi-stakeholder national Internet governance steering committee or similar body be set up” (emphasis supplied). The IGF, whose creation the WGIG recommended, has since been commended for its impact on the proliferation of national IGFs.

The rationale, then, was that multi-stakeholder steering committees at the national level would help to create a cohesive body to coordinate positions on Internet governance. In Reforming Internet Governance, WGIG member Waudo Siganga writes of the Internet Steering Committee of Brazil as a model, highlighting lessons that states (especially developing countries) may learn from CGI.br.

The Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) was set up in 1995 and is responsible, inter alia, for the management of the .br domain, distribution of Internet addresses and administration of metropolitan Internet exchange points. CERT.br ensures network security and extends support to network administrators. Siganga writes that CGI.br is a “well-structured multistakeholder entity, having representation from government and democratically chosen representatives of the business sector, scientific and technological community and an Internet expert”.

Why is CGI.br a model for other states? First, CGI.br exemplifies how countries can structure in an effective manner, a body that is involved in creating awareness about IG issues at the national level. Moreover, the multi-stakeholder nature of CGI.br shows how participation can be harnessed effectively to build capacity across domestic players. This also reflects the multi-stakeholder aspects of Internet governance at the global level, clarifying and implementing the WSIS standards (for instance). Especially in developing countries, where awareness and coordination for Internet governance is lacking at the national level, national IG committees can bridge the gap between awareness and participation. Such awareness can translate into local solutions for local issues, as well as contributing to an informed, cohesive stance at the global level.

Stakeholders: Populating a national IG body

A national IG body – be in steering committee, IGF or other forum – should ideally involve all relevant stakeholders. As noted before, since inception, the Internet has not been subject to exclusive governmental regulation. The World Summit on Information Society recognized this, but negotiations amongst stakeholders resulted in the delegation of roles and responsibilities: the controversial and much-debated paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda reads:

  1. Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues.
  2. The private sector has had, and should continue to have, an important role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields.
  3. Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters, especially at community level, and should continue to play such a role.
  4. Intergovernmental organizations have had, and should continue to have, a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues.
  5. International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.

This position remains endorsed by the WSIS process; the recent WSIS+10 High Level Event endorsed by acclamation the WSIS+10 Vision for WSIS Beyond 2015, which “respect mandates given by Tunis Agenda and respect for the multi-stakeholder principles”. In addition to government, the private sector and civil society, the technical community is identified as a distinct stakeholder group. Academia has also found a voice, as demonstrated by stakeholder-representation at NETmundial 2014.

A study of the Internet Society (ISOC) on Assessing National Internet Governance Arrangements, authored by David Souter, maps IG stakeholders at the global, regional and national levels. At the global level, primary stakeholders include ICANN (not-for-profit, private sector corporation involved in governance and technical coordination of the DNS), the IETF, IAB and W3C (technical standards), governments and civil society organizations, all of which participate with different levels of involvements at the IGF, ICANN, ITU, etc.

At the national/municipal level, the list of stakeholders is as comprehensive. Governmental stakeholders include: (1) relevant Ministries (in India, these are the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology – the Department of Electronics and Information Technology under the MCIT is particularly relevant), and (2) regulators, statutory and independent (the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, for example). At the national level, these typically seek inputs from other stakeholders while making recommendations to governments, which then enact laws or make policy. In India, for instance, the TRAI conducts consultations prior to making recommendations to the government.

Within the private sector, there may be companies (1) on the supply-side, such as infrastructure networks, telecommunications service companies, Internet Service Providers, search engines, social networks, cybercafés, etc., and (2) on the demand-side, online businesses, advertising/media, financial service providers, etc. who use the Internet. There may also be national registries managing ccTLDs, such as the Registro.br or the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI). There may also the press and news corporations representing both corporate and public interest under specific circumstances (media ownership and freedom of expression, for distinct examples).

Civil society organisations, including consumer organisations, think-tanks and grassroots organisations, participate at various levels of policy-making in the formal institutional structure, and are crucial in representing users and public interest. The complexity of stakeholders may be seen from Souter’s report, and this enumeration is but a superficial view of the national stakeholder-population.

Processes: Creating effective national IG bodies

National IG bodies – be they steering committees, IGFs, consultative/working groups or other forums – may be limited by formal institutional governmental settings. While limited by the responsibility-gradient in paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda, an effective national IG body requires robust multi-stakeholder participation, as Souter notes, in technical governance, infrastructure and public policy issues. Its effectiveness also lies in governmental acquiescence of its expertise and recommendations; in short, in the translation of the IG body’s decisions into policy.

How do these stakeholders interact at the national level? In addition to the Brazilian example (CGI.br), an ISOC study by Souter and Monica Kerretts-Makau, Internet Governance in Kenya: An Assessment, provides a detailed answer. At the technical level, the registry KENIC manages the .ke domain, while the Kenya Computer Incident Response Team Coordination Centre coordinates national responses to incidents and collaborates internationally on cyber-security issues. A specific IPv6 Force to promote Kenya’s transition to IPv6 was also created.

At the infrastructural level, both the government and the private sector play important roles. Directly, ministries and government departments consult with infrastructure providers in creating policy. In India, for instance, the TRAI conducts multi-stakeholder consultations on issues such as telecom tariffs, colocation tariffs for submarine cable stations and mobile towers, etc. The government may also take a lead in creating infrastructure, such as the national optic fibre networks in India and Kenya, as also creating investment opportunities such as liberalizing FDI. At the public policy level, there may exist consultations initiated by government bodies (such as the TRAI or the Law Commission), in which other stakeholders participate.

As one can see, government-initiated consultations by ministries, regulators, law commissions or specially constituted committees. Several countries have also set up national IGFs, which typically involve all major stakeholders in voluntary participation, and form a discussion forum for existing and emerging IG issues. National IGFs have been considered particularly useful to create awareness within the country, and may best address IG issues at the domestic policy level. However, Prof. Mueller writes that what is necessary is a “reliable mechanism reliable mechanisms for consistently feeding the preferences expressed in these forums to actual global policy-making institutions like ICANN, RIRs, WIPO, and WTO which impact distributional outcomes”.

[1] M. Mueller, Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace 57 (2002).

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