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Deep Dive on the Future of Internet Governance Fiona Alexander, American University

Fiona Alexander

Thank you to the co-facilitators for organizing the session and to Mr. Cerf, Ms. Galpaya, and Ms. Sinha for their informative presentations on the future of Internet Governance. Over the course of my 20-year career in the US government I was privileged to negotiate much of the Internet governance related language in the original 5-year WSIS process and actively participated in many ICANN, ITU, and IGF meetings. Now at American University’s Internet Governance Lab and Inclusive Tech Policy Research Initiative, I continue to actively work in the area.

As we approach the twenty-year anniversary of WSIS and consider how much technology has changed and become so pervasive in our everyday lives, it is timely to take stock. With that in mind, I offer the following observations:

  • Existing Internet governance structures are designed to constantly evolve: There are many actors in the Internet governance ecosystem, but the core institutions of the IGF, ICANN, the IETF, and the RIRs adapt and change to meet the needs of the day. The institutions are living examples of the multistakeholder model. The bottom-up, inclusive, and participatory decision-making processes ensures they are not static, but flexible systems where evolution is a design feature not a bug.
  • Multistakeholder approaches have proven effective: While perhaps the largest example of the multistakeholder Internet governance ecosystem effectively and inclusively solving a problem was the 2016 IANA stewardship transition, more recently the system has proven to be robust enough to deal with even the most politically divisive issues. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, requests were made to cut Russia off from the Internet by suspending its use of IP numbers and a country code top level domain. These calls were rejected by ICANN who reinforced the need to follow the rules and processes of the multistakeholder system which has a goal of securing a single global Internet. Ironically, Russia’s Internet users were better protected in the Internet governance ecosystem, than they would have been if decisions were made in this building.
  • The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) needs sustained funding from the UN: The IGF, now going into its 18th year, has proven itself to be a useful venue for talking through challenging digital issues and identifying paths forward. It has also inspired over 100 regional and national IGFs at a local level. As part of the UN system, it is the ideal place to further the digital compact discussion. To do this though it needs sustained funding, not relying on the voluntary contributions. It is time for the UN to fully fund the IGF.

Thank you again for the opportunity to offer my views as part of these deep dives. While recognizing that the UN is at its core a multilateral institution, the 2003-2005 WSIS process, nearly 20 years ago, demonstrated that the UN can convene a more inclusive negotiation process, one that involves all stakeholders, not just governments. I urge you to follow the rules of procedure used in the past so that as the work on the Global Digital Compact, Summit of the Future, and WSIS +20 review moves forward, a true multistakeholder approach is used. While it can be messier and sometimes uncomfortable for some, the best outcomes occur when all voices are heard.