This will be a watershed year for the Internet and for the viability of multiple voices and opinions coming together to decide how it all should work. That was the consensus of one panel at the 2014 State of the Net conference held January 29 in Washington, D.C.
The sentiment was first declared by National Telecommunications and Information Administration Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling in his opening remarks before a break out session called “If the Multistakeholder Model is the Past, Present, and Future of Internet Governance, Can Someone Please Define It?”. Other panelists echoed that opinion.
2014 brings with it new voices in the Internet governance debate, as well as new content and privacy challenges. Brazil is hosting the Internet governance forum on April 23, and new Internet governance discussion groups keep sprouting, such as 1Net.org and Global Commission on Internet Governance. The biggest change to the Internet to date, the introduction of new generic top-level domains like .CLOTHING, is underway (a topic only lightly touched upon at State of the Net). And more political leaders are asking questions about how the Internet is run in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities.
With new questions and new voices, the panelists identified challenges primarily of definitions and trust: Definitions in terms of what roles different stakeholders such as governments, the private sector, and ICANN should play in running the Internet; definitions also in terms of how those roles are weighted against each other, how discussions are run, and what sort of consensus must be necessary for decisions to be made.
Dr. Youn Jung Park, professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) Korea, pointed out that it will be difficult for governments to sustain participation in Internet governance discussions without clear boundaries and rules for their input. Dr. Laura DeNardis, professor at American University, agreed that the voice of governments and the private sector provide unique benefits for the discussion, but the history and intricacies of the systems already in place must be understood before any changes are made.
If these definitions are reached fairly, they will succeed. Daniel Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, said this trust was the hallmark of a strong multistakeholder system: If stakeholders, whether or not they win their argument of the day, feel that the system is working fairly, the system will sustain itself.
For all Internet stakeholders – Internet users, governments, and businesses – clearly there is a lot of work ahead.
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