Introduction to Internet governance

The world is evolving, and so is the internet. A significant part of the human life will gradually become largely dependent on the internet in the coming years. Our jobs, interactions, transportation, medicine, politics, education, research, and businesses would evolve over the years.

With these and many more reasons, the concept of internet governance should be understood and debated by more individuals and stakeholders around the world. Youth involvement is also very crucial in achieving these goals. Young people are shaping online culture in so many ways. They are building their dream Internet. And yet when it comes to policy discussions, most of them are not at the table. As the next generation of policy leaders, it is important for youths to understand Internet history and futures. Hence, the course “Shaping the internet- History and futures”, introduced by the Internet Society (ISOC) under the youth@IGF program to support youth involvement in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Now, let’s understand Internet Governance.
It is worth noting that there is no universal definition of internet governance, neither is there a right or wrong taxonomy for internet governance issues nor a single prescribed way of analyzing internet governance issues.
Given the global dimension of internet governance, an authoritative definition cannot possibly capture the concept, but a shared understanding of what it means in various diverse contexts would give a better framework.

The components that make up the interpretation of the term ‘internet governance’ are the words ‘internet’ and ‘governance’. Understanding these words should give a clearer picture of what internet governance entails, however, it turned out to be the focus of differing interpretations in policy discussions.
The word ‘internet’ was interpreted as just the network and it was argued as not being broad enough to represent the digital revolution. Phrases like ‘Information Society’ and ‘Information Communication Technology (ICT)’ were considered as being more comprehensive. In the same way, the word ‘Governance’ has also been a subject for controversy in policy debates. The major reason for controversy was the argument that the word governance means the involvement of government bodies which led to a belief that internet governance issues should be addressed on an intergovernmental level with limited participation of non-state actors. This semantic confusion occurred due to the fact that the word ‘governance’ and ‘government’ sound the same (especially when interpreted in other languages) but are understood to have different meanings.

In defining the scope of Internet governance, we consider two key elements; the technical infrastructure of the Internet, which includes Internet Protocol numbers, domain names, Internet protocols, and root servers; and
the public policy issues which define the impact of the internet on society, this may include content control, cybercrime, intellectual property etc.

In 2005, the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) adopted a working definition which says:

“Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector, and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.”

This definition to a large extent covers the major concerns in defining internet governance. By depicting the multistakeholder approach which is recently being used in addressing internet governance issues.

In the past, different stakeholder organizations have introduced different taxonomies in classifying internet governance, these include the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), the Diplo Foundation, the Committee on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Those who have worked on these taxonomies of internet governance always acknowledge flexibility as a major factor, owing to the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of the internet. The Agenda for the first IGF in Athens 2006, centered around four thematic areas; Access, Security, Openness and diversity and at the second IGF in 2007 at Rio de Janeiro, a new thematic area was added called Critical Internet Resources.

Various issues would rise and fall over time based on global events and policy priorities of various stakeholders, however, there is a conceptual framework for analyzing internet policy issues, adopted by the Diplo foundation called the Internet Governance cube. As described in the picture above, it can be observed that the “Who” axis represents the stakeholders/actors involved which may be the private sector, states, civil society, and the likes. The “Where” axis, however, represents the framework or level at which the policy is being implemented. This could be local, regional, self-regulation etc. In the same sense, the “What” axis represents the various issues facing the internet, which are represented in the IG cube, ranging from infrastructure to standardization, content control, e-commerce, cybercrime and many more. The “How” which represents an intersection of all three axes represents the recommended manner in which policies can be analyzed in internet governance discussions.

A typical illustration of an internet governance analysis can be visualized when considering a certain policy on content control (“What” = content control), proposed to regulate private internet businesses (“Who” = private sector) in Africa (“Where”= regional). These three factors should form a background for analysis of such policies and considering them can help in creating a progressive multistakeholder policy discussion.

In internet governance discussions we have the multistakeholder and multilateral methods. The Multistakeholder method allows for the involvement of a group of diverse stakeholders from different sectors alongside the government in making policy decisions. This approach is being utilized by the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) and the likes.
However, the Multilateral approach, on the other hand, involves only the government having the ultimate power regarding policy decisions. A typical example of the Multilateral method can be found in the intergovernmental bodies like the United Nations (UN) and other agencies like the World Trade Organization (WTO), International Telecommunications Union, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) etc.

From a holistic point of view, I personally believe both methods has its advantages and disadvantages, based on the context of the application. However, when it comes to internet governance policies, I am strongly in support of the multistakeholder method. It is more inclusive, and above all, it ensures that individual rights are being represented.

In conclusion, The future of the internet is in the hands of everyone, we should all come together to learn the history and shape the future of the internet.