Making the case for a multistakeholder approach

By on 3 Apr 2024

Category: Policy

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Open, inclusive, and bottom-up may seem natural to those of us in the Internet technical community, but making the case for keeping Internet governance that way is an ongoing challenge. 

The saying in English goes, ‘it never rains but it pours’ — which is to say, nothing happens for a while, and then suddenly lots of things happen at once. 2024 (and 2025) feel a little like that in relation to Internet governance. A host of events — some long scheduled, others more spontaneous — are jostling for space in the calendar and bringing more focus to the hotly contested ground where technical policy, standards setting, regulation, and public policy intersect. 

‘Multistakeholder’ is a term that gained traction around the first meetings of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 and 2005, long after the IETF and the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) communities had formalized their own ‘open, inclusive, bottom-up’ approaches. But it was to these models that the WSIS (and the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG)) authors were looking when they set the Internet governance ship on a ‘multistakeholder’ course, and the consensus around that decision has held for nearly two decades. 

Amongst the many Internet governance (or digital governance) events, however, the 20-year review of that WSIS process (WSIS+20, for all you hipsters) stands out as significant, precisely because of that multistakeholder commitment. As different stakeholders find their aims and agendas diverging, can a commitment to open, inclusive policymaking survive?

Central to this question is an even more fundamental question — why do we need multistakeholder Internet governance? What are the practical benefits of open, inclusive processes over long-entrenched, government-led models for collective management of common resources? 

Some months back, CENTR, the association of European country code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) registries, asked me to develop a paper on the benefits of a multistakeholder approach to Internet governance. The final document, which draws on feedback and insight from the CENTR membership, was published last month, and that link back to ccTLD operators is clear.

Each operator has its own distinct setup, but they share a common need to engage with their national governments — the result is a myriad of different ‘multistakeholder models’, each with its own strengths. For advocates of a multistakeholder approach, the ccTLD community offers a wealth of examples, which can stand alongside the successful multistakeholder models of the IETF, the RIRs, and ICANN. 

The intent of this paper is to contribute to the global conversation that is now growing in intensity, so feedback is more than welcome. 

Read more details in the paper “Why We Need Multistakeholder Internet Governance”.

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The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.

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