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The IG Marathon, Who Will Win the Internet Governance Race

2015 has already started to make its own land marks in the internet of things world. A major thing that has definitely hit the headlines is cyber security issue, which gives an indication that organizations will probably have to make generous budgetary allocations to answer to these anticipated breaches.

Internet governance is perhaps going to remain in the headlines for the rest of 2015. It is the year that NTIA is expected to make the transition happen, after an announcement in 2014 of its intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community. As this remains in view, several steps have already been made towards such a direction, both for and against the move.

Who is NMI? – is anyone listening?

The NETmundial a two day Global Multistakeholder meeting on the Future of Internet Governance was hosted in Brazil. The meeting was a partnership between the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) and /1Net, a forum that gathers international entities of the various stakeholders involved with Internet governance amongst them ICANN. The meeting was a result ICANN CEO’s meeting with President Rousseff on 8 October and the outcomes and document would be taken as a roadmap subject to improvement on how to govern the internet with ICANN looking at it as a supporting issue.

Much as the NetMundial was supposed to be a one-off event that has metamorphosed into the NetMundial Initiative (NMI), which is now struggling to find its footing in the Internet Governance space. The new partner is the World Economic Forum. The initiative though has faced a few teething problems with questions on its real position, and a possible competition with an already established annual UN-backed IGF forum. Some of the issues include the membership of its council where it was suggested that there be permanent seats for the I* organizations, which represent ICANN, ISOC and IETF. The ISOC stated in its clarification that “Recently, the “I* Group” was invited to participate in the NETmundial Initiative, which is different from the one-time NETmundial meeting in which we participated in April 2014; ..... This announcement has resulted in considerable discussion and concern amongst various stakeholders regarding the purpose, scope, and nature of the proposed activity or organization.” The ISOC continued “Internet Society cannot agree to participate in or endorse the Coordination Council for the NETmundial Initiative” ...effectively declining the seat.

Shortly after, in a statement CGI.br, another partner for NMI and ICANN to the WEF said it “would never agree with top-down, closed decision-making processes that could possibly undermine its legitimacy as a true bottom-up, multistakeholder body. It is up for the community to transform NMI into something that is concrete and useful for the advancement of IG in full respect of the principles enshrined in the NETmundial declaration.”

Issues of NMI establishment could be many, but it will be important to take a step back and ask why it came about, how it was structured, its direction and future, its position in the internet governance table. Was it a reaction to the NSA/ ICANN transition issues, who are its drivers, does it compete or complement with the existing IGF, is it adding value or addressing any concerns of the internet stakeholders, was it too ambitious…and finally what its support base is.

The Just Net and the Internet Social Forum – Occupy NMI

In the wake of the NMI, there is a new coalition which according to their press release is “A group of civil society organizations from around the world” and it has announced the Internet Social Forum, to bring together and articulate bottom-up perspectives on the ‘Internet we want’.

These new initiatives seem to be coming up all attempt to fill a certain gap or need that they feel was not addressed by the other. However, all of these could result in a situation where many more initiatives are formed and eventually the voices could be too many and the space crowded so who listens to who? Will it result to more and more declarations?

Phil Corwin in his commentary on the Internet Social Forum (ISF) states that “while the NETmundial meeting and follow-up NMI cannot be held responsible for the views espoused by JNC/ISF, that initiative in favor of the MSM was certainly a catalyst. NMI’s failure to successfully engage with mainstream civil society and technical organizations early on, and decision to move forward without them, has created an environment where ISF’s views may gain more traction and where its existence now makes engagement with NMI by mainstream groups exceedingly more problematic.”

The individual Call to Action by Sophia Bekele for Congress to “Oversight” ICANN

Well, there is also Sophia Bekele who recently forwarded various arguments, noting her organization’s own issues with ICANN accountability and sharing her experience on her engagement with US Congress, therefore singularly called for “a new body that will work in cooperation with the NTIA to exercise supervisory responsibilities over ICANN” and discussing the recent announcement by US congress on the FY 2015 appropriations bill denying any funding to NTIA Transition an “unambiguous” language and that any disregard by ICANN and NTIA to this effect would be seen as violating US law.

In an unexpected announcement and response, Strickling, the undersecretary of NTIA last week also confirmed this unambiguity by US congress and stated instead “I want to reiterate again that there is no hard and fast deadline for this transition. September 2015 has been a target date because that is when the base period of our contract with ICANN expires. But this should not be seen as a deadline. If the community needs more time, we have the ability to extend the IANA functions contract for up to four years. It is up to the community to determine a timeline that works best for stakeholders as they develop a proposal that meets NTIA’s conditions, but also works”.

The US Congress

Several reports show recent activities from the US congress, Speaking at a January 28th American Enterprise Institute program on “Tech policy 2015: The year ahead” , Chairman Thune among other statements said “beyond just legislation, there is much oversight that Congress and my committee must do in the technology and communications space…If this transition is going to happen, it has to be done very carefully. We have to focus on ensuring that the Internet will remain open, stable, and secure. ...I have been working with Senator Marco Rubio to hold the Administration accountable to its promises and to urge ICANN to implement accountability reforms as part of the IANA transition process. If these goals cannot be met, the Administration should simply renew the IANA contract indefinitely”

More US weight comes also as Senator Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, Chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, and Senator Roy Blunt, member of the Senate Commerce Committee introduced a resolution to increasing public awareness in the U.S regarding the implications of the proposed transition. To what end is unknown…

The Jigsaw puzzle of the Internet Universe

Therefore, it is important to note carefully that it is not about who wins but who gets the balance right. The Internet Governance is a universe in itself, complete with proponents and opponents. The most challenging is the obviously the continuously changing platform. The dynamism most likely exists in the membership and coalition formations rather than the fundamental issues that include the coordination of technical standards, the operation of critical infrastructure, development, regulation, legislation. Ideally and evidently Internet governance should remain to be about seeking solutions and the application of shared critical principles, norms, decision-making procedures and models, and focus on programs that shape and catalyze the evolution and use of the Internet.

Indeed as the Internet Society Board reiterates “there is no single, global platform that can serve to coordinate, organize or govern all the Internet issues that may arise.” Therefore, it is up to all stakeholders to find their space in the jigsaw puzzle, without competing intentions and also unconditionally.

Give it 5 minutes

Sometimes when one needs to make an important decision and the mind seems clogged up and the thinking clouded by the many determinant variables, it becomes paramount to take a rest, to take a step back, and click the refresh button.

The Internet Governance discussion could be given 5 minutes from what it seems like a perpetual case of cognitive dissonance, so we could come up with a winning model. Otherwise the term ‘multistakeholder” will remain to be a buzzword and the IG race to the finish line good or bad, may be cause an unintended consequence.

By Gideon Rop, Project Manager: DCA Registry Services Kenya and ISOC Kenya Member

He is an Internet Governance enthusiast and technology critic, an active member of ISOC Kenya who participates regularly in Internet Governance, DNS and Security Fora, and in ICANN GNSO working groups.

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