Today, multi-stakeholderism is the catchphrase in Internet governance. With the display of a multi-stakeholder model at NETmundial, controversies and opinions regarding the meaning, substance and benefits of multi-stakeholderism have deepened. As the recent meeting of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation of the United Nations Commission on Science, Technology and Development demonstrates, questions and concerns regarding meaning of multi-stakeholderism, thelegitimacy and desirability of its processes, and the successes and disappointments of its outcomes now dominate the discussion. At this juncture, clarity and consensus are imperative to determine the future of multi-stakeholderism in Internet governance.
Roles and responsibilities of stakeholders:
The debates surrounding stakeholder-roles in Internet governance began with paragraph 49 of the Geneva Declaration of Principles and paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda, which delineated clear roles and responsibilities. It created a ‘contributory’ multi-stakeholder model, where states held sovereign authority over public policy issues, while business and civil society were contributed to ‘important roles’ at the ‘technical and economic fields’ and the ‘community level’, respectively. At the same time, it set forth an agenda for enhanced cooperation.
As the WGEC meeting (April 30-May 2, 2014) demonstrated, there is as yet no consensus on stakeholder-roles. Certain governments remain strongly opposed to equal roles of other stakeholders, emphasizing their lack of accountability and responsibility. Civil society is similarly splintered, with a majority opposing the Tunis Agenda delineation of stakeholder-roles, while others remain dubious of permitting the private sector an equal footing in public policy-making. Still others question the wisdom of seeking a ‘fix’ when ‘nothing is broken’.
In this session, we aim to interrogate the benefits and disadvantages of an ‘equal footing’ model, as opposed to a ‘contributory’ model. Who are the stakeholders? Should a multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance grant all stakeholders ‘equal footing’? Should such ‘equal footing’ be relegated to issues other than substantive public policy-making? On the other hand, is a ‘contributory’ model safer? Are states better equipped to represent interests inclusively? How can governments and businesses best perform their role as trustees of the public interest of interest users?
In view of the formidable consolidation by the private sector at NETmundial, while civil society splintered on issues of intellectual property and intermediary liability, can a ‘participative model’ better prevent detrimental outcomes?
Multi-stakeholderism beyond NETmundial:
As important as the meaning of multi-stakeholderism is the process of its execution. The need to fashion safe and sustainable processes for multi-stakeholder participation was highlighted by the successes and failures of private sector and civil society at NETmundial. From the ICANN and IGF models to stakeholder coalitions, premeeting coordination and governmental policy participation, this session shall expand on the quest for effective and beneficial stakeholder participation and representation in both the ‘equal footing’ and ‘contributory’ models, with a focus on enhancing developing country participation.
Particularly, lessons that Internet governance may draw from multi-stakeholder governance processes across areas shall be discussed. For instance, deliberative democracy, enterprise associations or unions (such as in the International Labour Organisation) may all be of value. Similarly, multi-stakeholder processes in environmental and corporate governance and the development sector may benefit Internet governance. In determining the value of these processes to Internet governance, public interest of users is an important consideration. The capability and initiative of governments to implement an effective bottom-up model of Internet governance is equally important and will be considered.
Dr. Govind, CEO, National Internet Exchange of India
Dr. Anja Kovacs, Director, The Internet Democracy Project
Mr. Rajnesh Singh, Regional Bureau Director for Asia-Pacific, ISOC
Mr. Parminder Jeet Singh, Executive Director, IT for Change
Dr. Arvind Gupta, National Technology Head of BJP, India
Prof. Ang Peng Hwa, Singapore Internet Research Center, Singapore Nanyang Technology University
Moderator: Geetha Hariharan, Programme Officer, Centre for Internet & Society,