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Canadians Connected: your questions about the future of the internet, answered

By Georgia Evans

CIRA’s Canadians Connected event series went virtual in April to discuss the future of the internet. Tackling this topic is obviously not a small task—so we’ve compiled your outstanding questions and answered them below.  

ICYMI—The future of the internet

We’re at a significant inflection point for the future of the internet. Through the Global Digital Compact (GDC) and the World Summit on the Information Society +20-year Review (WSIS +20), governments are renegotiating the rules of how the internet is governed; their fingers are on the slider between multistakeholderism on the one hand and multilateralism on the other. 

On April 17, CIRA convened a jam-packed, engaging conversation at The future of the internet: a Canadians Connected virtual event. Global internet governance experts laid out the stakes of upcoming multilateral processes that will shape our shared digital future, the risks and opportunities for the future of the internet and why everyday internet users should care. And with such a hot topic up for discussion, there were some questions from the audience left over that we want to address below.  

Our panel

  • Fiona Alexander, Distinguished Policy Strategist in Residence, American University  
  • Konstantinos Komaitis, Resident Senior Fellow for Global Governance and Democracy, Atlantic Council  
  • Carol Roach, Chair, Multistakeholder Advisory Group, Internet Governance Forum  
  • Byron Holland, President and CEO, CIRA 
  • Takara Small, CBC, (Moderator)

Your questions, answered 

What will the internet look like if the threats mentioned by the panellists arise? What will internet users see? 

The multistakeholder internet governance community has spent the last 20+ years dedicated to building an internet that is free, open, global interoperable, secure, stable and resilient. These principles and properties underpin the freedom of expression and permissionless innovation that make the internet a force for good.  

If multistakeholderism is diminished, then the internet of the last 20 years will dissipate into an internet that is driven by political goals. At a technical level, this could mean more controls from governments and less interoperability. This reduces the effectiveness of the technology and clamps down on the ability of the upper layers—the applications and content that people interact with—to be globally available. There may also be restrictions on freedom of speech, subversion of other rights and freedoms that are actualized online, and a decrease in innovation. Moreover, internet fragmentation can lead to the replication of national borders and the restrictions that come with that—like commerce and travel —online. 

Why is the governance of the internet important, as opposed to punishing bad behaviour on an international scale?

There is no shortage of harm and abuses present on the internet; in these instances, internet governance fora and traditional law enforcement mechanisms can be complimentary. At multistakeholder internet standards development fora, for example, the technical community develops protocols to mitigate cyber threats perpetrated by cybercriminals who may be hard to otherwise identify.  

International multistakeholder bodies also support collaboration to establish best practices. For example, the Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network includes over 400+ stakeholders from governments, the private sector, civil society, academic and technical communities to develop best practices for combatting DNS abuse or cross-border electronic evidence sharing. International internet governance bodies provide both flexibility and ensure the presence of all relevant stakeholders at the decision-making table—so when decisions do get made about how to manage bad behaviour, all perspectives are accounted for.    

What does “showing up” mean for a person who only somewhat knows how to use the internet, let alone understands how or whether it’s regulated? 

There are plenty of ways for people to become informed and active in internet issues. The Canadian Internet Governance Forum (CIGF) is a national initiative of the United Nations-led IGF and is a platform for information-sharing and fostering dialogue about these issues. The outputs of these meetings are used to represent Canadian priorities on the global stage. At the global IGF, intersessional work—like policy networks, dynamic coalitions and best practice forums—between meetings enables everyday users to learn about and provide their voice on various internet-related issues. Finally, users have a lot of power themselves; if they want to, users can come together and exercise levers of direct democracy.  

“At the end of the day, the internet should be in service of humans. And that’s why it’s important for all of us humans to get involved in this process for how the future of the internet is going to unfold.” — Byron Holland, Canadians Connected: The future of the internet 

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About the author
Georgia Evans

Georgia is a Policy & Advocacy Analyst at CIRA and is very passionate about internet governance and digital policy.