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NETmundial Initiative Lacks Backing, and ICANN Should Not Lead

Steve DelBianco

A fledgling attempt to create a new global Internet governance clearinghouse has run into trouble as leading business and civil organizations said they are not yet prepared to participate in the NETmundial Initiative (NMI) championed by ICANN President Fadi Chehade.

In highlighting that there remain several unanswered questions, the Internet Society (ISOC), Internet Architecture Board (IAB), and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC-BASIS) raised serious concerns about whether NMI, which sought to empanel a council to direct global Internet governance initiatives, was consistent with its core principles of openness and accountability among multiple stakeholders.

Many of us in the multistakeholder community share the concerns of those organizations and appreciate them for prompting a second look at how we approach the next phase of global multistakeholder policy development for the Internet.

The challenges set forth in the NETmundial Outcomes Document are meant as a blueprint for continued improvements of the multistakeholder model, which should be addressed, discussed, and advanced by the broadest possible cross-section of the global Internet community.

Even with all Internet stakeholders working collectively toward solutions, it will take quite some time for the world to implement the Outcomes Document's "Roadmap for the Future Evolution of the Internet Governance". But the responsibility for implementation should not be centralized in an elite and exclusive leadership group.

The NMI's perceived exclusivity threatens to alienate Internet stakeholders who will be critical to the success of any multistakeholder outcomes. Business groups, governments, and civil society outside of NMI's limited leadership structure aren't likely to buy in to outcomes that they didn't help to produce, and may stay away from the new body altogether.

ISOC's request for more information regarding the scope and purpose of the NMI approach may have been the first and most visible, but it likely won't be the last, given that many sectors still feel there are remaining questions. And without truly representative buy-in from stakeholders, NMI will not have the legitimacy it needs to tackle such an ambitious agenda.

NMI organizers, including ICANN, should give serious consideration to the questions raised by ICC-BASIS in its letter to the NMI Transitional Committee. Questions related industry participation and the apparently open-ended nature of NMI are particularly germane. Even the Internet Governance Forum, which now plays a critical role in the global Internet governance landscape, was initially launched with only a five-year charter.

If anything, the issues surrounding the NMI approach highlight the limitations of ICANN as the global leader on Internet issues that fall outside of its essential, but limited remit. Now that ICANN is seeking to strengthen its accountability as it assumes the IANA functions without U.S. oversight, it is critical that ICANN demonstrate it will focus on its core technical mission.

While ICANN's strong organizational structure and regular meetings make it attractive focal point for convening stakeholders, the real success of the multistakeholder process in the wake of NETmundial will be measured in how effectively other organizations and governments initiate discussions and implement solutions in the forums where they are most appropriately addressed.

When you have so many global stakeholders addressing such complex Internet issues, a single point of focus can become the single point of failure.

By Steve DelBianco, Executive Director at NetChoice
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Related topics: ICANN, Internet Governance
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Incomprehensible Philip S. Corwin  –  Dec 18, 2014 11:11 PM PDT

At the August NMI pre-launch event in Geneva Larry Strickling stated toward day's end that the effort would fail if civil society was not brought on board. It seemed clear that should have been objectives 1, 2, and 3. Yet four months later they are not only not on board but have jumped ship quite publicly. If determined efforts to engage them were made they have clearly failed; if inadequate efforts were made that is incomprehensible. The organizers might want to consider taking a time out rather than continuing to push NMI toward the cliff.

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