Charting a course for the global Internet: a look at NETmundial

An overview of NETmundial, a multistakeholder Internet Governance meeting held in Brazil last month, and the statement on the future of Internet Governance that was produced.

Global Internet (Source NETmundial)For two days last month, 22 and 23 April, leaders and key stakeholders in the Internet governance community congregated in São Paulo, Brazil, for the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, more commonly known as NETmundial. The meeting was the first of its kind that involved governments, private sector, civil society, the technical community, and academics worldwide in a single session. Its purpose was to craft Internet governance principles and propose a roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem (Source: NETmunidal). At the end of the meeting the NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement had been produced.

What does the NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement entail?

The NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement comprises two key areas: Internet governance principles, and a roadmap for the future evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem. Though non-binding, the Statement was developed using a “bottom-up, open, and participatory process” that involved in-person and remote participants at NETmundial, along with comments submitted on the consultative document published prior to the event. In total, there were 1,229 participants from 97 countries, 30 remote hubs, 188 submissions, and 1,370 comments on the draft papers.

Internet governance principles covered

With regard to Internet governance principles, the following topics were covered in the NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement:

  • ensuring that the human rights and shared values that people have offline are also be protected online: freedom of expression; freedom of association; privacy; accessibility; freedom of information and access to information; personal and sustainable development
  • protecting intermediaries in order to promote economic growth, innovation, creativity and free flow of information
  • respecting, protecting and promoting cultural and linguistic diversity
  • encouraging a unified and unfragmented space that is globally coherent, interconnected, stable, scalable and accessible network-of-networks
  • establishing security, stability and resilience of the Internet as a key objective of all stakeholders in Internet governance, as a global resource
  • requiring that the open and distributed architecture of the Internet be preserved through voluntary collaboration, collective stewardship and participation, and that upholds the end-to-end nature of the open Internet
  • creating an enabling environment for sustainable innovation and creativity
  • promoting open standards that have been informed by individual and collective expertise, along with decisions made by rough consensus

In summary, Figure 1 identifies the key Internet Governance process principles that should be fostered, as agreed at NETmundial.

Figure 1:  Key Internet governance process principles (Source: NETmundial)
Figure 1: Key Internet governance process principles (Source: NETmundial)

Roadmap for the future evolution of the Internet governance

The objective of the roadmap section of the NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement was “to outline possible steps forward in the process of continuously improving the existing Internet governance framework ensuring the full involvement of all stakeholders in their respective roles and responsibilities” (Source: NETmunidal). For the future evolution of the Internet, it was crucial to ensure, among other things, that:

  • multistakeholder decision-making and policy formulation are improved in order to ensure the full participation of all interested parties
  • stakeholder representatives are selected through open, democratic, and transparent processes
  • multistakeholder mechanisms are developed at the national level to feed into regional and global discussions
  • there is meaningful participation by all interested parties, with attention to geographic, stakeholder and gender balance in order to avoid asymmetries.
  • capacity building and empowerment through measures such as remote participation and adequate funding are fostered
  • there is a recommitment to build a people centred, inclusive and development oriented Information Society
  • the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is strengthened to better serve as a platform for discussing both long standing and emerging issues, and
  • there is adequate communication and coordination among existing forums, task forces and organizations of the Internet governance ecosystem.

The roadmap also addressed three specific Internet Governance topics. First, in relation to security and stability, there was a call to “strengthen international cooperation on topics such as jurisdiction and law enforcement assistance to promote cybersecurity and prevent cybercrime” (Source: NETmunidal). However, these discussions should be held in a multistakeholder manner, and should not duplicate, but rather augment existing structures.

Second, NETmundial was of the view that mass and arbitrary surveillance “undermines trust in the Internet and trust in the Internet governance ecosystem”. However, more dialogue is needed to develop a common understanding of the issue.

Finally, it was recognised that capacity building and financing are crucial for effective and wide participation from a diverse range of stakeholders. Moreover, capacity building is essential to support the emergence of true multistakeholder communities, which NETmundial believes should underpin virtually all aspects of Internet Governance.

Why was NETmundial so powerful?

As expected a number of news reports on NETmundial have been published. Some lamented the fact that “bigger issues” either were not tackled or successfully resolved to make it into the statement produced. On the other hand, there is also the overwhelming view that the final document is a seminal piece of work that will be guiding the use and evolution of the Internet governance for years to come.

Having said this, it ought to be highlighted that much of the content in the final statement is not new, but has been encouraged and/or adopted to varying degrees by other bodies involved in Internet Governance. The gravitas of the event is due to the true multistakeholder process that was successfully implemented, and the consensus achieved, evidenced by the final document that was produced.


Image credit: NETmundial