India made headlines at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN’s) 53rd Public Meeting in June with its advocacy for the multistakeholder model of policymaking.

However, despite India’s growing track record of multistakeholder support, the language coming out of the latest meeting of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) set forth points that were more in line with China and Russia’s documented desire to expand state influence in Internet policy.

The Declaration from the 7th BRICS Summit

The Declaration issued from the 7th BRICS Summit held in Ufa, Russia, dedicates a full five paragraphs to Internet issues and contains language that supports a prominent role for states in the development of Internet policy.

In particular, the Declaration notes that the “Internet is a global resource and that states should participate on an equal footing in its evolution and functioning, taking into account the need to involve relevant stakeholders in their respective roles and responsibilities” and that “it is necessary to ensure that UN plays a facilitating role in setting up international public policies pertaining to the Internet.”

However, looking at the last three years, it’s clear that BRICS’ opinions on Internet governance aren’t as harmonious and unified as this summit’s Declaration suggests.

Cracks in the BRICS – India’s Multistakeholder Stance

ICANN 53 just marked India’s most recent break with the BRICS coalition on the issue of multistakeholderism. In 2012, all of the BRICS countries except India signed the controversial Final Acts of the World Conference on International Telecommunications, held in Dubai by the ITU. The Final Acts language did not actively contradict the multi-stakeholder model of international Internet governance, but did appear to assert the sovereignty rights and active governmental role for states and the ITU.

In the same year, India distanced itself from any model that would propagate governments taking “charge” or what they referred to as “balkanizing” the Internet at the Budapest Cyber Space Conference in 2012. India’s Minister of State for Telecom spoke at the conference: “We are moving ahead with new proposals. While the existing system certainly needs to be changed, India’s position will include multi-stakeholder involvement and not inter-governmental bodies that may have been proposed in the past.”

The Influence of China

According to the World Bank, China’s economy is more than the sum of the other four BRICS’ economies combined, and Chinese citizens account for almost half of the population of the group. Given these factors, China has significant power to wield in the coalition, and this power perhaps set the tone for the language on Internet governance found on this Summit’s Declaration. In fact, we have discussed the “multilateral” Internet governance model, which favors language similar to that of this Declaration, and called it the Beijing Model, since the Chinese government has ambitiously advocated it in multiple international occasions.

As the BRICS countries continue to navigate the differences in their economic positions, political systems, and global outlook, the world will continue to watch. After all, the struggle over the Internet governance issue among the BRICS countries will help shape the future of Internet policy, and with it, business. Together, the BRICS economies add up in output to about the same as that of the U.S. and are on their way to overtake the entire G7. It is possible for these countries to have a powerful voice if they are cohesive – given the growing importance of ecommerce in the global economy, big voices will want a say in the direction that Internet policy takes.

Josh Bourne
7th BRICS Summit’s Take on Internet Governance

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