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Quintett Leads Net Mundial Initiative (NMI): New Steam for an Enabling Multistakeholder Platform

At June 30, 2015 the Inaugural Meeting of the Coordination Council of the NetMundial Initiative (NMI.CC) elected a "Quintett" to guide its activities through the global Internet Governance Ecosystem. Alibaba's CEO Jack Ma from China, ICANN's President Fadi Chehade, Brazilian's Minister Virgilio Almeida and two woman: Eileen Donahou from Human Rights Watch (HRW)) and Marilia Maciel from the Center of Technology and Society (CTS) in Rio de Janeiro are sharing now the helm to bring more steam to this new innovative multistakeholder platform. One from government, one from business, one from civil society, one from the technical and one from the academic community. Two women, three men. Two Americans, two Brazilians and one from China. A good mix and a good representation of the multistakholder idea.

This was the first official meeting of the NMI.CC. The new Coordination Council has 23 members from five continents and four stakeholder groups: government, private sector, technical community and civil society. The meeting adopted the key documents of the NMI: the Sao Paulo Communique, the Terms of Reference (ToR) and the Council's governance and operational framework. It took place in the same Grand Hyatt Hotel in Sao Paulo where the Brazilian President Dilma Roussef hosted the "Global Multistakeholder Conference on the Future of Internet Governance", known as "NetMundial", in April 2014.

Net Mundial 2014: A watershed for Internet Governance

NetMundial was a landmark conference at a historical moment when the trust into the global Internet was undermined by the revelations of Edward Snowden. There was a widely shared impression that something has to be done and that the existing Internet Governance Ecosystem has some gaps. NetMundial accommodated those critical comments by taking the long discussed concept of "multistakeholderism" as the main model for the governance of the Internet to a new and more operational level.

Internet Governance is on the global policy agenda since more than a decade. ICANN was established in 1998. The United Nations organized between 2002 and 2005 two World Summits on the Information Society (WSIS). Since that an annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) discusses all the new technical, social, economic and public policy Internet related issues. Many other inter-governmental and non-governmental groups have meanwhile Internet Governance of its agendas and have adopted numerous resolutions, recommendations and action plans.

But the 2014 Sao Paulo Conference marked a watershed in those discussions. Its final documents — a "Declaration of Internet Governance Principles" and an "Internet Governance Roadmap" — got the support not only by one stakeholder group, as most of the existing documents do. What emerged in Sao Paulo was a global rough consensus across stakeholder groups. It was unique that all Internet stakeholders — governments, the big players of the Internet economy, the leading Internet technical groups and a broad majority of civil society organizations — were united in their commitment to contribute to an "inclusive, multistakeholder, effective, legitimate, and evolving Internet governance framework" and recognized that the Internet is "a global resource which should be managed in the public interest".

The adoption of the Net Mundial documents demonstrated that the new and innovative multistakeholder approach is working. It demonstrated that an open, transparent and bottom up process where all stakeholders participate on equal footing and in their respective roles can achieve concrete results.

Net Mundial Initiative: From Declaration to Action

The NetMundial initiative (NMI) emerged in this "Spirit of Sao Paulo". The risk was high in April 2014 that without a concrete follow up the outcome of this remarkable conference will disappear in the archives of the forgotten documents. Insofar it was an urgent need that some drivers used the steam and the energy from the NetMundial process and pushed for the next steps forward. In August 2014 the Brazilian Internet platform CGi.br, ICANN and the World Economic Forum (WEF) presented in Geneva a proposal how the policy innovation from Sao Paulo could be translated into a workable and sustainable mechanism.

Like all new ideas also the idea of a NMI got mixed reactions. Some groups were enthusiastic, others were more sceptic. Some groups feared that such an initiative will end in another travel circus and compete with the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Others feared that a new body could become something like a "UN security council for the Internet". And some civil society groups expressed concerns that the whole Internet governance debate will be captured by "big business".

Fourteen months after the NetMundial conference, ten months after the presentation of the idea of a NetMundial follow up and six months after the formation of the NetMundial Coordination Council (NMI.CC) the profile of the new political innovation gets sharper. With high level leadership, a working structure and a set of basic documents NMI has now started to implement the spirit of Sao Paulo.

As the Mission Statement says, NMI "will seek to complement and support the work of existing Internet governance dialogue and normative processes and institutions, notably the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)". The Initiative will:

1. Promote the application, evaluation, and implementation of the Principles and encourage community reporting efforts.

2. Serve as an impartial clearinghouse for the collection and dissemination of information about Internet governance issues and sources of relevant expertise, solutions, resources and training.

3. Provide a platform on which diverse actors can present projects, solicit partners and establish collaborative relationships.

4. Enable sustained, open, inclusive, equitable and collaborative processes for communities to share knowledge and expertise, leading to best practices, suggestions, innovation and solutions to address challenges identified by the community.

5. Facilitate participation in the Internet governance ecosystem, particularly by stakeholders from the developing world, and advance multistakeholder processes at the global, regional and national levels.

6. Assist developing-country communities, governments and underserved stakeholders by enabling capacity development efforts and in networking with relevant organizations and processes in order to address gaps in policy development.

The documents adopted by the Inaugural NMI.CC meeting were drafted in an open, transparent and bottom up process with several rounds of public comments. And they took on board all the critical remarks: The NMI.CC will not install another travel circus or compete with the IGF. It will not be a policy making body. And it will not lead to a new deal between "big government" and "big business" to sideline civil society. Instead the NMI.CC will help to bring solutions to problems. It will be an explorer and enabler. And it will contribute to build a new culture for an enhanced "Cross Stakeholder Cooperation" (CROSCO).

NMI.CC as an Enabler and Explorer

The NMI Coordination Council brings together high level leaders, but the function of those leaders in the Internet Governance environment is not to lead and control, but to enable and to explore. This is an interesting experiment.

The NMI sees itself as an enabling platform. It will not make policies. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We have the principles, we have the framework and we have the roadmap. Now is time to move from discussion to action. One good example is the discussion around the establishment of a global Internet Governance Clearinghouse.

NMI has already started to promote a so-called "Solutions Map", developed by GovLab. This map identifies policy related Internet issues and maps them to best practices and research results from around the world. This project will be linked to similar projects, which emerged in the last years as the UNCSTD mapping plan (an outcome from the WGEC), the EU sponsored Global Internet Policy Observatory (GIPO), the new established Global Forum on Cybersecurity (GFSC) in The Hague and others. An intelligent coordination of all those mapping plans — a map of mapping — could lead indeed to the long awaited global (decentralized) Internet Governance Clearinghouse which would help governments, business, technical and civil society organizations to find faster the solutions they are looking for to manage identified Internet related problems in the "cyberjungle".

Another example is the kick start of a series for national case studies how the multistakeholder model in governing the Internet is implemented on the local level. The Brazilian case is a special source of inspiration. Brazil has meanwhile more than 10 years of experiences how to develop and implement local Internet polices in a multistakeholder fashion which resulted in the recently adopted "Marco Civil", a basic legal document for national Internet policy. Each country is different, but many countries could benefit from the Brazilian experience as they will benefit from other national case studies. The NMI.CC will function here as an inspirator and enabler.

But the NMI.CC is also an explorer. The Cyberspace is still in many parts an unknown territory. And the proposed model how to govern this space — the multistakeholder model — is still in its infant stage. There is no definition. There is no blueprint. There is learning by doing. The multistakeholder model is a very young political instrument and the actors, while remaining in their traditional roles within their own stakeholder groups — have to learn how to communicate and to collaborate across those traditional barriers which have separated stakeholder groups in the past.

The NMI, if it goes beyond "talking", has the opportunity to contribute substantially to the development of a new culture for an enhanced "Cross Stakeholder Cooperation". The start has been made in the Net Mundial Conference in Sao Paulo in April 2014 where a new culture of "listening" to each other emerged. It continued in the NMI.CC Stanford preparatory meeting (March 2015) and it was deepened during the recent NMI.CC meeting.

Where in the world you can see that a Chinese minister enters into a critical but constructive dialogue on equal footing with a program director from Human Rights Watch? Where you can see that a US Vice-Minister agrees with an African technical expert that rough consensus in Internet related issues for policy decisions is better than voting because it protects the interests of minorities and reduces the risk of capture by "big parties". Where you can see that an African and a Chinese Internet billionaire are united in their call to invest more in digital education for the young generation? And all those conversations are webcast, recorded and open to the public.

If this cross stakeholder communication culture — which is obviously possible in the exceptional situation of a council meeting — could be translated into the day to day collaboration across stakeholder borders, this would be a big step forward to keep the Internet unfragmented, open, free and secure. Such conversations will enrich our body of experiences in dealing with the multistakeholder model.

What next?

One should not be naïve. In Cyberspace there are not only opportunities, there are also risks and threats. And there are different economic and political interests driven by different cultures and ideologies. To remove barriers of time and space does not open the door into a peaceful paradise where everybody loves everybody. Conflicts will not disappear and different parties will have different ideas how to manage the future of the Internet. But to sit around a table, to start discussion on equal footing at high level and to share responsibilities for the "One World-One Internet" concept is an important step towards a civilization of cyberspace.

Two days after the Sao Paulo meeting the UN General Assembly started its preparatory process for the WSIS 10+ High Level Review Conference, scheduled for December 2015 in New York. It was remarkable that nearly all speakers from governments (Day 1) and non-governmental groups (Day 2) supported the multistakeholder approach to Internet Governance.

It seems that the days where "multilateralists" were fighting bitterly against "multistakeholderists" are over. Even the Indian government, which had expressed some reservations to the Sao Paulo document supports now the multistakeholder approach for Internet Governance, as IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the 54th ICANN meeting in Buenos Aires in June 2015.

All this is good news for the Internet Governance Ecosystem. But the real stress test is still ahead of us: How to translate the global agreement on the benefits of multistakeholder cooperation into related policies on network neutrality, trade, taxation, intellectual property, privacy, surveillance and the day-to-day Internet related activities on the local level. And how to link the multistakeholder approach to the hard core security issues in cyberspace?

In the Ufa Declaration, which was adopted one week after the NMI.CC meeting on July 8, 2015, the heads of States of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, India, Russia, China and South-Africa) recognized on the one hand the need "to involve relevant stakeholders in their respective roles and responsibilities" but on the other hand they made also clear that they "uphold the roles and responsibilities of national governments in regard to regulation and security of the network." And they underlined "the need for a universal regulatory binding instrument on combating the criminal use of ICTS under UN auspices." There is still a lot of work to do.

By Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Professor Emeritus at the University of Aarhus – He is a member of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace, was a member of the ICANN Board (2013 – 2015) and served as Special Ambassador for the Net Mundial Initiative (2014 – 2016). Visit Page

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