Event ReportsPublished on Sep 03, 2015
As ICANN moves towards multi-stakeholder leadership, it must continue its efforts to become more global and more inclusive. In order for India to be a part of this transformation, it needs to refine its position on internet governance and include a wide range of perspectives, say experts.
India needs to refine its position on Internet Governance

As the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) moves towards multi-stakeholder leadership, it must continue its efforts to become more global and more inclusive. In order for India to be a part of this transformation, it needs to refine its position on internet governance and include a wide range of perspectives. This was the consensus from a panel discussion on "Approaches to Internet Governance: the Indian Stakeholder View", organised by Observer Research Foundation on March 9, 2015.

The panel applauded ICANN’s moves towards becoming more global, in particular the establishment of offices in Singapore and Istanbul and the appointment of a representative in India. There was agreement that the internet is everywhere, and its governance model should reflect that, accommodating many countries. There are plenty of views about how to make the internet more broad-based and international, but no clear answer yet. In many countries, including India, the debates need to mature and become more sophisticated.

Five prominent factors contributing to ’digital divides’ were highlighted by the panel. The first was technology, which has always been a divider, but the pace of the technological growth means this divide is narrowing. The second was the content divide - especially in the early days of the internet, all the material available online came from Western sources and provided Western perspectives. This was linked to the third factor, language. Until recent Chinese efforts broke the pattern, 90% of websites were only available in English. The fourth factor, which is less of an issue in the developed world, is gender. In the developing world, there are four men using the internet for every female user. The last factor was control - given that ICANN is a California-based company, jurisdiction and authority were both concentrated in the United States, an unsustainable model. However, it was noted that the distance between those who lag and those who lead is by no means impossible to surmount, especially given the speed of internet-related growth.

The panellists noted that the current ICANN model of bottom-up community participation could be made more effective. At present stakeholders who are already part of the governance ecosystem are very involved, creating a digital divide between them and those who are not already ’in the room’. An improved, more inclusive mechanism is also a public policy concern for many governments.

There are many reasons why government participation in global internet governance is necessary, including the fact that governments are the first port of call when dealing with issues like national security. On the international stage, governments are the main actors and decision makers. Thus any true multi-stakeholder approach would accept that governments play a very important part in it, but would also make room for other representation. In order to ensure that whatever approach taken is in the best interests of the internet, it is critical to let go of labels and embrace practical solutions. The right players, diverse players, should be involved, and solutions implemented differently based upon what is needed at the moment.

India's participation in the internet management ecosystem is disproportionately low considering it represents 300 million internet users and an IT industry worth more than 1 billion dollars. India also does not participate enough on the technical side, including in auctions for generic top-level domains (gTLDs). More input from academia and civil society is required to formulate policy within India, allowing it to contribute on the global stage. There was a suggestion that India’s participation should be institutionalised. One of India’s current challenges is that different bodies, even with the government, maintain different policy positions, so some consolidation is required. Another complication is that while India has a large number of internet users, they still represent only a small fraction of the total population. The interests of the others, who will soon be connected, must be reflected and represented in the Indian discourse.

The panel identified certain principles which are necessary for internet governance going forward. Equitable reform is essential, and changes must be international. As a whole, internet governance should be more broad-based, involving ordinary users. The internet itself welcomes all users. The structures of internet governance should accommodate different speeds, internet population sizes, and types of people. Governance mechanisms, while incorporating states, should not become ways of legitimising government control. The internet must be kept open for innovation. The internet is the biggest engine of growth today, and as a tool of development it is essential that it be free and innovative.

The stakeholder panel included Mr Fadi Chehadé, President & CEO of ICANN; Dr Shashi Tharoor, Indian Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs; Mr R Chandrashekhar, President of NASSCOM; Dr Arvind Gupta, National Head of the BJP IT Cell; and Mr Ajay Kumar, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology; it was moderated by Mr Samir Saran, Chair of Cyfy: the India Conference on Cyber Security and Internet Governance.

(This report was prepared by Vindu Mai Chotani, Research Assistant, and Anahita Mathai, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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