Even as we increasingly discover that every facet of our modern lives now revolve around, and are dependent on the Internet, for which reason its availability, functionality, safety, stability and security are now of great and continuing concern to all of us. These issues have a profound impact on its overall governance.
To most of us, during the past three decades, the Internet has always been available, stable, affordable and open; and it should continue this way even as it is controlled and administered in a secure manner — and we should all have a say on how it should be governed — based on a largely consensus-driven, multi-stakeholder process. The current debate over the architecture of current and future Internet governance would indeed affect how the Internet evolves and shapes up in the coming years. We all have a stake in that expected outcome.
Some governments continue to push for an ITU-led Internet governance model that is subject to the direct oversight of the multilateral United Nations, and its overarching General Assembly of 193 countries and nation-states. The countries pushing for this would like to see an end to the present model that is entirely a U.S.-government led process (overseen by the NTIA of the Department of Commerce) largely pivoted on U.S.-based institutions such as ICANN, IANA, etc. that is considered too 'open' and 'hegemonic' — that is, by viewing the U.S. as a 'global Internet hegemon', and believing rightly or wrongly that its 'governance' or 'dominance' role over the Internet should be severely curtailed.
The argument in support of the status quo is that U.S.-based organizations such as ICANN already try their utmost to serve a global public interest with a Board of Directors and other Policy Advisory Bodies and Councils that are multistakeholder in composition, and having their membership drawn from many countries and different regions of the world, thus giving global citizens an opportunity to participate in global Internet Governance, for example, in the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) and At-Large Organizations.
If the United States House of Representatives is now introducing legislation to bar the UN Regulation of the Internet, then it only implies one thing. The Empire is fighting back!
It is quite apparent that the U.S. would view UN governance of the Internet as 'anathema'. The U.S. invented the Internet and its potential as an America public diplomacy tool has grown over the years, to the chagrin of those countries that are clamouring for U.N. oversight of global Internet Governance. Moreover, the Internet is already viewed as the birthright of every American, and to subject that right to the external oversight of the UN, and the 'regulatory' voices of other countries would be deemed unacceptable by the U.S. Congress. The battle lines are already drawn.
Irrespective of the geo-political calculations that underpin the intricacies of these global affairs issues, I urge we remains fully committed to the multi-stakeholder model of Internet Governance and should continue to rally unconditional support for it. I believe that this is the only guarantee for an open, stable, secure, and scalable Internet that has already evolved and will continue to evolve and expand to meet the diverse needs of a globalized 21st century society, and this paradigm should be preserved and protected and defended.
An open, inclusive, participatory, multi-stakeholder Internet goes beyond ordinary 'Internet governance', and is really about whether people should be free in a global society. It is all about the Universal Right to Freedom, and the UN, the main guarantor of Human and People's Rights, should not be unwittingly used as a tool to rein in that sacrosanct freedom bestowed on people everywhere by a Free Internet in the name of an ITU-led and controlled Internet governance architecture. Is it not ironic that a multi-lateral UN-ITU led Internet governance process is not aimed at guaranteeing a multi-stakeholder Internet?
On one hand this should be worrisome, but on the other hand, is a food for thought as we all try to follow, and formulate our different opinions in this global debate over the governance of a resource that affects all our lives.
During the recent ICANN International Meeting at Costa Rica which I attended, Mr. Hartmut Glaser, the LACNIC representative and Executive Secretary of CGI had remarked in his opening address: "I believe that Internet use should be steered by the principles of freedom of speech, individual privacy, and respect for human rights..." adding that "Internet governance must be transparent, multilateral, and democratic, with the participation of several segments of society preserving and fostering its collective creation nature." Such a resonant view remains highly representative of the opinions of many in the global ICANN Internet Community who remain deeply committed to a multi-stakeholder Internet governance model anchored on a democratic ethos and the core principles of human and societal freedoms.
Finally, if the Internet was built by the tireless efforts of committed mutistakeholders who contributed millions of 'comments' that resulted in the rapid and sustainable development of its core 'RFC' technologies, architecture and standards, then its governance should also remain perpetually multi-stakeholder-based. Anything short of this would go against the very spirit of the Internet.
By Sophia Bekele, CEO of DotConnectAfrica. Ms. Sophia Bekele is a former generic Names Supporting Organization (gNSO) Council policy advisor to ICANN from 2005 to 2007 and is presently the spearhead of the Yes2DotAfrica campaign. During her stint with the ICANN GNSO Council, she contributed to the new gTLD policy development effort.
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