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Join the new technical community coalition to defend and strengthen multistakeholder internet governance

This blog was co-authored by auDA, CIRA, InternetNZ and Nominet.
By Sabrina Wilkinson
Policy Program Manager

An open, free, secure and global internet requires effective ‘internet governance’

The internet has transformed our world. It connects people and businesses across borders and enables innovation and progress. It is a powerful tool for social, economic and cultural development and underpins all aspects of daily life for many.  

Despite the internet’s importance, as end-users, we often don’t think about why or how it works and who makes it work. The internet, as a network of networks, is governed through collaboration within and between a set of distributed and overlapping national, regional and global organisations and processes. This global internet governance system ensures that the internet we have continues to exist and work effectively. 

Much of this efficacy can be attributed to the multistakeholder approach that is taken in many internet governance spaces and processes. In the multistakeholder model, governments, the private sector, academia, the technical community and civil society all participate in the governance of the internet on equal footing. They all share their interests and ideas to play a role in decision-making. 

This is a proven model for responding to the complex and dynamic policy and technical challenges that the internet has presented. It leads to outcomes that work, that have considered a full range of perspectives and that have broad support. 

Internet governance is at an inflection point and the multistakeholder model is at risk 

As the internet has become increasingly central to societies and economies, some governments have started to seek greater control over its governance, with debates increasingly influenced by geo-political power dynamics. 

Between now and the close of 2025, several dialogues on the future of global internet governance will take place that could result in significant and irreversible changes to the current multistakeholder model.  

One of these processes is the United Nations (UN) Global Digital Compact (GDC), expected to be agreed at the Summit of the Future in September 2024. The GDC will “outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future”. Negotiations for the GDC between Member States of the UN are about to start, and a zero draft has been released. 

The other UN process is the 20-year review of the 2003-2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS +20) in 2025. The original WSIS process formalised UN recognition of the multistakeholder model of internet governance and set up the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as a new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue (at CIRA, we support its national initiative, the Canadian IGF).  

At WSIS +20, UN Member States will consider whether to extend the mandate of the IGF. There is a shared concern that new structures could be introduced, such as the Digital Cooperation Forum, that would centre governments in dialogues about the internet, encouraging Member States to cancel the IGF’s mandate.  

At the same time as these UN processes are other opportunities to discuss the future of global internet governance. A significant upcoming event is NETmundial+10, which is a rare chance for all stakeholders to discuss the global internet governance system itself and how we can improve and evolve the multistakeholder model.    

If multistakeholder internet governance is weakened, so is the internet

The key risk is that the outcomes of these UN processes will weaken the multistakeholder model of internet governance in favour of an increased role for governments. This risks not only the benefits associated with the model itself, but also the universality, openness and freedom of the internet that it underpins.  

An increased role for governments will necessarily mean a reduction in the role of non-government stakeholders, including the technical community.  This risks internet related decision-making being led by governments with individual nation-based political interests, without the transparency and accountability that the multistakeholder approach demands.  

It risks critical decisions on how the internet develops being made without the specialised insights and expertise of the technical community, which could undermine the overall open, seamless operations of the internet. And it risks decisions being taken without the consensus of the global multistakeholder community, which will impact the efficacy and implementation of those decisions. 

A coalition to defend and improve an approach to internet governance that supports the internet we want

The multistakeholder model of internet governance that currently exists is not set in stone. Its foundational materials are a mixture of norms, political agreements and trust. It can and will change if it is not defended by those who recognise that different forms of internet governance produce different internets. If we want an open, free, global and interoperable Internet, we must step up to defend and evolve the multistakeholder approach that underpins that. 

So far however, there has been limited coordination and activation by the internet technical community (and other stakeholders) to respond to these debates and issues. Concerned by this gap, CIRA, auDA, InternetNZ and Nominet have established an informal coalition of aligned members of global internet technical community.  

This coalition is looking for participants from around the world. Its purpose is to support the capacity of members to engage in the current internet governance dialogues and processes, with a view to defend and improve the multistakeholder model of internet governance as a critical foundation of an open, free and interoperable internet.  

The work of the coalition has begun

Some initial meetings with other interested parties have already taken place in multistakeholder fora, such as at ICANN79 (San Juan). auDA, CIRA, Nominet, and InternetNZ also developed a joint response to the call for written inputs for the Global Digital Compact and each organisation lodged an aligned submission separately.  

This emerging coalition has set up a mailing list to share information on UN and related processes and discuss opportunities for shared engagement and messaging. We’re also developing a Statement of Purpose for the coalition so that interested parties can learn about and sign onto the coalition’s objectives.  

Join the coalition

Want to learn more about the coalition and the different touchpoints to defend multistakeholderism?
Get in touch

About the author
Sabrina Wilkinson

Sabrina is CIRA’s Policy Program Manager, where she develops and advocates for policy positions in pursuit of a trusted internet. Sabrina holds a PhD in Media & Communications from Goldsmiths, University of London.