Can a multistakeholder approach truly work to govern the Internet?
When there are multiple stakeholders and interests to consider, such as in the process to transition the United States’ stewardship from IANA to the global Internet community, can a multistakeholder approach work?
The recent announcement by the United States (US) Government to transition its stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to the global community has triggered considerable discussion worldwide. It has also been the impetus for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to launch a consultation process on the transition approach:
- ICANN will initiate the launch of the multistakeholder‐designed process for the community at the ICANN 49 Meeting in Singapore (21—27 March 2014) to address how the mechanisms for the transition should occur.
- Input from the community discussions will be compiled into materials for posting subsequent to the ICANN 49 Meeting for public comments.
- The process will be open, global, and transparent, and will ensure:
- Full engagement with all stakeholders and interested or affected parties, including discussions at respective meetings.
- Global reach, including translation of relevant materials
As at the time of publishing, the ICANN 49 meeting has been on-going in Singapore, and one of the biggest discussions this week was on the IANA accountability transition, which was held on Monday, 24 March. Although it was recognised that the community sub-groupings might not yet have had an opportunity to discuss the US Government’s announcement among their own members and stakeholders, the session would begin early dialogue on the issue. Moreover, ICANN intends to incorporate the views and comments expressed into the consultation materials it is preparing and should be released on or around 7 April 2014 (Source: ICANN).
However, having had an opportunity to listen to the entire session on IANA accountability transition, it began to highlight, first, the size of the community that needed to be engaged on the matter, which was extensive. During the discussion, at least 20 organisations were identified as entities that should be contributing to process. However and perhaps more importantly, that preliminary discussion also began to highlight the broad range of interests that would (somehow) need to cohere into consensus to facilitate the anticipated transition.
Consultation versus a multistakeholder process
One of the issues that began to come to the fore was the difference between consultation and a multistakeholder process. As noted earlier, ICANN indicated that a consultation will soon be launched through which stakeholder views will be secured. However, participants were challenging that approach on the grounds that it is at odds with the process envisaged: a multistakeholder model.
Generally, a multistakeholder approach is a bottom-up consensus-building process with decentralised control, and according to ICANN’s own thoughts on the issue, attention is given to the voices of the community as much as to the voices of power. On the other hand, a consultation is tends to be a top-down approach. A proposal (or position) is posited by the consultation owner for which feedback is sought. The owner then processes the inputs received, and generates the final outcome, usually with limited additional feedback (if any) from stakeholders.
Having said this, and referring back to the IANA accountability transition discussion, should a true multistakeholder approach be adopted, the process is likely to experience with benefits and challenges, some of which are reflected in Table 1.
With ICANN 49 scheduled to draw to a close tomorrow, 27 March, we may soon learn whether or not, or the extent to which, ICANN intends to adopt a more “multistakeholder” approach to the IANA accountability transition than what it might have initially intended. It may also mean that a final agreed approach to facilitate the transition of stewardship might not be achieved by September 2015, which the current US Government contract ends. Notwithstanding, it is still incumbent on all of us to attempt to participate in the process – through our governments, local and regional representatives on the various Internet organisations, or even through ICANN directly – and it is critical that our views as stakeholders can be considered.