Reimagining Multistakeholderism: Challenges for Internet Governance

Concerns remain in the developing world that about whether the ICANN/IANA transition will create a truly plural process. This issue brief discusses three challenges 'multistakeholderism' must address from the perspective of the developing world: access, equity and sovereignty.

As the internet has assumed increasing importance across the world, who governs the online sphere is becoming a burning question. The current governance architecture is anachronistic, as American-incorporated organisations like the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) continue to administer what was once an American, but is now unquestionably a global, phenomenon. In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations of US government spying on friends and foes at home and abroad, the US Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced its intention to transfer key “Internet domain name functions to a global multistakeholder community.”

Whether US government influence over the organisations that administer the internet is perceived or real, the spotlight is now on the global multistakeholder community to make internet governance the same global commons that the internet itself aspires to be. Yet just as calling the internet a ‘global commons’ ultimately rings false while billions are still disconnected, the multistakeholder community too could suffer from a lack of inclusion if its system prioritises the concerns of the developed world and universalises those concerns for the global poor. Apprehensions remain in the developing world about whether the ICANN (IANA) transition will create a truly plural process.

To avoid the possibility of an internet run by and for the affluent, this paper discusses three challenges ‘multistakeholderism’ must address from the perspective of the developing world: access, equity and sovereignty.

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Samir Saran