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Technology Matters: Internet governance at a crossroads
Published on March 12, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Bevil Wooding

Shaping the Future of the Global Internet

Internet governance has emerged as a major point of focus for governments and private sector groups interested in safeguarding and sustaining the growth and innovation spurred by the web.

Bevil Wooding is the chief knowledge officer of Congress WBN, a values-based, international charity and the executive director of BrightPath Foundation, a technology education non-profit organization. Reach him on Twitter @bevilwooding or on or contact via email
The growing global spotlight on Internet governance is driven by the ever-expanding economic power of the Internet; border-spanning cyber security threats; and privacy concerns amplified by the fallout of the release of confidential US National Intelligence Agency (NSA) documents revealing the scale and reach of US-intelligence data gathering programs. These developments are drawing a wider pool of actors into the already diverse, multi-stakeholder groups that oversee and influence global Internet policy.

Conversations around the future of the Internet are getting louder and more complex. From computer engineers and policy specialists defining the technical protocols and rules underpinning; to economists, human rights advocates, security specialists, lawyers and diplomats, debating who ultimately is responsible for governance of the world’s most significant network.

At stake is stability and continued growth of a network that is perhaps the greatest driver of economic and social change in the history of mankind.

Safeguarding Global Interests

The Internet's impact on global growth is quite significant, and rising rapidly. The Internet accounted for 21 percent of GDP growth over the last five years among the developed countries, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute study. Most of the economic value created by the Internet actually falls outside of the technology sector, with 75 percent of the benefits captured by companies in more traditional industries. The Internet is also a catalyst for job creation. Among 4,800 small and medium-size enterprises surveyed by McKinsey, the Internet created 2.6 jobs for each lost to technology-related efficiencies.

Governments around the world are now paying greater attention to global Internet governance issues and their implications for local policy and development agendas. Investment in local Internet assets is one area viewed as critical to safeguarding sovereign interests, and increasing national economic opportunities.

In the wake of mounting cyber-crime and government-sponsored spying, investments for establishing local Internet exchange points, root servers and related broadband infrastructure are no longer optional. More importantly, decisions to build-out or strengthen national Internet infrastructure are rightly shifting from narrow private-sector led initiatives to, broader, national development focused agendas.

Reflecting the Global Network

The current Internet governance structure favours the interests of the US government and US-based tech companies and organizations. However, the rest of the world is keenly eyeing a more prominent role. There is now a growing call for governance that better reflects the global nature of the net, and for a more even playing field for companies and organizations from around the world, particularly in emerging markets.

Last fall, leaders of the major Internet institutions responsible for the technical operations of the Internet issued the Montevideo Statement. The statement was noteworthy for the unanimity expressed by the technical community. It addressed four issues.

First, that government-led surveillance allegations had undermined user trust.

Second, the desire to evolve the multi-stakeholder cooperation model to better address Internet governance challenges.

Third, the need to accelerate the globalization of ICANN and the IANA functions.

Lastly, the need for transition from IPv4 to IPv6.

The Montevideo Statement represented an important milestone in the evolving global debate on Internet Governance. Significantly, its views come from the heart of the multi-stakeholder system.

Last November, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) established a panel including representatives from government, civil society, the private sector, the technical community and international organizations to address concerns about Internet governance. The World Economic Forum followed last January, launching a Global Commission on Internet Governance, with the goal of influencing the future governance of the Internet.

Next April, the Brazilians, in collaboration with the Internet community worldwide will host a “Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance.” The meeting, scheduled for April 23rd and 24th 2014 in Sao Paulo, is expected to focus on crafting Internet governance principles and proposing a roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem. The Brazil forum will be followed by the first staging of the South School of Internet Governance in the Caribbean, from April 28th to May 2nd, in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

Positive Signs

These are all very positive signs that all reflect the dynamic shifts taking place on the world stage. This augurs well for individuals as well as institutions seeking to join the global debate over the future of Internet Governance.

The year ahead presents an unprecedented opportunity for the global community to work together to advance and to ultimately preserve and strengthen an open Internet as a driver for innovation, commerce and development. But to benefit, people have to participate.

Consistent participation in local, regional and international fora is the only way for governments and organizations to quickly get up to speed on the myriad issues and challenges. It is also the only way to actively shape the development of global solutions.
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