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A Netmundial+10 Could Help Redefine Pathways for Internet Governance in the Global South

The original Netmundial was a unique Internet governance event that took place in 2014 and set out to map new avenues for global cooperation around the theme, uniting diverse stakeholders to discuss the future of IG in a broad manner. It was initially convened by the Brazilian government and ICANN as an answer to the Snowden revelations of global Internet espionage performed by various nations (primarily the USA), in part due to these two actors being directly affected by the implications of the revelations.

Netmundial’s non-binding collaborative outcomes document outlined many principles that would repeat themselves in the stated interests of many IG efforts that followed it, demonstrating the event’s effectiveness in gathering a general impression of the community’s objectives. The highlighted areas were: human rights; protection of intermediaries; unified online space; security, stability, and resilience; open and distributed architecture; sustainable innovation; continuity of the multistakeholder model; open standards.

Ultimately, Netmundial failed to capitalize on its potential, and the Netmundial Initiative (NMI) that followed it saw significant criticism, running out of steam within a year. However, many of the ideas that motivated the event remain quite relevant. In particular: A) the necessity for the community to discuss IG in a more wholistic manner, especially amid a proliferation of fora concerned with Internet and Internet-adjacent themes; B) this event was one of the few times in which a Global South country was not only the host of a meeting of this magnitude, but rather its protagonist.

In discussing the aftermath of Netmundial, Pohle (2015) indicates that it was initially “praised by many for its open, inclusive and transparent structures”. Problems arose mostly when the stewards of the process attempted to execute on the proposed outcomes by creating the NMI structure in partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF), which was perceived as a move that stepped away from the original methodology of the process. It was also emphasized that the NMI would be at odds with the preexisting role of the UN’s IGF.

In comparison, the IGF has become a large annual event with hundreds of community-organized workshops, in addition to some satellite voluntary groups that advance work during the intervening months. However, it continues to struggle in the delivery of outcomes that can be actioned by the global community in a meaningful way. The IGF also remains an ad-hoc structure that is dependent on its mandate being renewed by the UN General Assembly.

The IGF+ effort, started in 2019, sought to reform the IGF’s structure and make it into a body capable of advising and supporting policy generation – which was also one of the key premises of the NMI. However, the IGF+ has been silently taken out of the spotlight, being followed by the Global Digital Compact (GDC). The outcomes of the GDC have the potential to subsume the IGF into something entirely different, particularly in the face of the new action-oriented Development Cooperation Forum (DCF). Kleinwächter (2023) more optimistically points towards the possibility of the IGF becoming the home for the implementation of GDC recommendations. Regardless, the IGF’s future remains unclear.

A lack of clarity further complicates an already intricate scenario. Pigatto et. al (2021) emphasize that, currently, IG is split between three models: one led by the USA, one by the European Union as a bloc, and one by China. That leaves open the question of where the Global South and developing countries in general stand in this equation. What is a model that is healthy for the continued development of these nations, which allows for them to compete in the face of massive technological and legislative transformations, as well as an increasing trend towards digital sovereignty?

A Netmundial+10 would enable relevant discussion by the global community concerning where it would like to see IG headed towards, without being reliant on a workshop format nor needing to act under the mandate of the UN. A focus on the Global South does not need to mean a distancing from the existing models of governance, but rather, it presents opportunities for the establishment of dialogue with said models. Countries like Brazil have made, and will continue to make, significant legislative advances that need to be better articulated and communicated with actors such as the European Union, just to give an example.

The foundations of such an event would ideally resemble those of the original, which attempted to balance a multistakeholder approach with a multilateral one, something that admittedly demands effort. IG bodies and interested governments would need to commit once more to the building of a space for debates that allow interested parties to bring forward broader issues, informing and reminding the community of our priorities, so that this could then be brought back to the many existing Internet-related fora.

IG as an area has progressed and grown significantly since the days of the original Netmundial, and there is certainly room for that to be reflected in a Netmundial+10. With the greater maturity of the field, there can be a more focused approach aimed at tackling emerging issues and enabling the sustainable continuity of a model that is mindful and avoids the pitfalls that have been charted over the decades of multistakeholder model experience that exists under our collective belts.

Brazil remains an ideal venue for this event, given its good diplomatic relations with most of the world’s nations, its tradition in IG participation and development, and its continued technological and economic growth. This choice also echoes previous successes like the Rio+20 sustainable development conference in 2012, which celebrated 20 years since the landmark Eco-92 conference.

All things considered, a Netmundial+10 could represent a favorable step in redefining a path for Internet governance in the Global South that allows it to remain in equilibrium with the Global North. To maintain a single interoperable Internet, there will be need for models that work for all to be put into place, so that the trend of digital sovereignty remains focused on improving national autonomy rather than the siloing of the world into different networks.

With input from Jaqueline Pigatto and Laura Pereira

By Mark Datysgeld, GNSO Councilor at ICANN

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Klaus Stoll  –  Jul 7, 2023 5:45 AM

Dear Mark
Good article at the right time! What will it take to make Netmundial+10 happen? Standing by.

Mark Datysgeld  –  Jul 7, 2023 10:51 PM

Dear Klaus, I believe that two factors stand in the way of that. The first is political will from an interested government actor. Judging from the reactions I have received to this article, that will does exist. Second, but more problematic, is the concept that this would potentially clash with the GDC. Netmundial+10 would possibly demand the same people as that, which might pose a challenge.

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