Internet Governance/Conclusion: Best Practices and Looking Forward
What best practices can we identify?
The preceding discussion covers a wide variety of issues and governance possibilities. In an attempt to synthesize this broad-ranging discussion, six general principles (or Best Practices) can be identified for Internet governance:
- Multi-stakeholder alliances: We have seen that, on a number of issues, Internet governance is most effective when it includes a diversity of actors. Spam, cybercrime, standards, and much more: all of these require participation by national governments, the private sector, civil society, and consumer or citizen groups. All steps should therefore be taken to develop mechanisms and institutions that bring together these various actors and harness their skills through multi-stakeholder alliances.
- Foster participation:In order to be accountable and representative, Internet governance needs to be seen as the outcome of a truly participatory process. All affected stakeholders should have a voice, and special care must be taken to include traditionally under-represented groups such as women and people in developing countries. Importantly, these steps should be substantive and meaningful: in practical terms, this means supplementing procedural mechanisms with capacity-building, education and resource support.
- International approach: The Internet is a global network, and its governance similarly requires a global approach. Nation-specific mechanisms are often ineffective, or even harmful to the seamlessness of the network. It is therefore essential to develop institutions, bodies, fora and treaties that deal with governance issues in an international and coordinated manner.
- Technology neutral approach: Part of the Internet’s success stems from its openness to new means of communication: as long as a technology respects the network’s core standards and protocols, it can join the network. Internet governance must take a similarly technology neutral approach, encouraging the process of convergence, and ensuring that no particular technology is given regulatory precedence over another. This is particularly important for developing countries, where wireless and IP technologies hold great promise for bridging the digital divide.
- Maintain original architecture: All governance measures must respect the underlying architecture of the Internet, and particularly the e2e principle and the use of open standards. This underlying architecture is at the root of the network’s phenomenal spread and success, and should be considered non-negotiable in whatever discussions or outcomes result from WSIS and any other process.
- Supplement law: Finally, and to return to our discussion at the start of this primer, it must be kept in mind that governance means more than just government and government policy. This also implies that traditional State law should be supplemented and enhanced by other, nonlegal, mechanisms. Such mechanisms can include innovations like open source, the use of self-governance and codes of conduct, and the general use of technology to supplement law. The important point is that law is but one tool in the arsenal of effective Internet governance.
What is the future of Internet governance?
As this primer was being finalized, WGIG had just issued its report. The report includes a number of recommendations regarding those issues it considers at the top of the governance agenda. It also recognizes concerns with existing models of governance, and suggests four models for the future. The WGIG is itself agnostic with regard to the choice of models.
In many ways, then, it is clear that Internet governance remains a work in progress, with its final dispensation and shape unlikely to emerge in the immediate future. While it is always difficult (and dangerous) to make predictions, some likely trends can, however, be identified. In particular, it appears likely that in the future national governments may play a greater role in Internet governance, although it should be noted that many actors remain wary of granting States too much power. In addition, steps will most likely be taken to enhance participation, particularly by developing countries. Generally, there will be a concerted effort to enhance the Internet’s role as a tool for social and economic development – and, concomitantly, to enhance the scope of Internet governance beyond the merely technical.
These changes are likely to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Nearly everyone involved in the WSIS process recognizes that changes to Internet governance must be made cautiously, without disrupting the underlying architecture, and without breaking a system that, whatever its imperfections, does in fact function rather well. For this reason, discussions over governance are likely to extend well beyond the November 2005 meeting in Tunis. The current process of reappraisal and the search for alternatives represent just the beginning of a more general discussion that will, no doubt, continue for several years, if not decades.As this paved the way for new innovative life.