Does multi-stakeholder Internet governance really favour equal representaion of diverse interests?

Add to my custom PDF

Power Plays in Global Internet Governance Regulation by Risk of Harm

It is commonly thought that as the Internet has multiple stakeholders a multiple stakeholder model is the best method of governance. Is this correct or is it just a comfortable assumption that fits the view of those who currently hold power? The truth is important because the Internet represents current power relations and diverse, competing interests.

Historically, the private sector has been the default coordinator of Internet governance. In the multistakeholder model of Internet governance, governments, the private sector and civil society are the primary actors. The multi-stakeholder governance model is favored by the United States of America and has received considerable support. The United Nations and the World Summit on Information Systems are examples of successful multi-stakeholder initiatives. However, very few experts have critically analyzed the practical implementation of the multi-stakeholder approach. Carr presents multi-stakeholder governance in the context of liberalism: a paradigm and philosophy grounded in equality and liberty.

An examination of the current situation using a multi-stakeholder approach finds an unequal inclusion of government and civil society. For multi-stakeholder governance to be effective these two groups should be included equally. If these groups are represented equally, multi-stakeholder governance has the ability to accommodate diverse interests, to seek expertise on an issue, and to develop a more inclusive view.

There are two misconceptions about the current state of Internet governance. First, the idea that government should be removed from Internet governance so that it does not impede progress is faulty. There is a need for representation of broader interests of the different states in the light of their interpretations of an optimal Internet. Secondly, there is also an assumption that civil society is equally included in multi-stakeholder governance. Currently, civil society is unable to compete for equal inclusion because the sphere lacks the funding and influence to exert its interests fully.

These misconceptions point to some challenges in multi-stakeholder governance. Without diverse discussion and debate multi-stakeholder approaches are inefficient. To effectively deliver on the promise of true multi-stakeholder governance requires the combination of all governance elements so they can represent their interests, from the maintenance of state security, through the preservation of industry to the upholding of ethical practices.

Although there are examples of successful multi-stakeholder initiatives, it is a pure assumption that the model is universally effective. The practical application of a balanced multi-stakeholder approach for Internet governance requires considered, careful and conscientious implementation. Multi-stakeholder governance favors the agendas of those whom created the Internet, as evidenced by the overwhelming representation of the private sector. Just because multi-stakeholder models work for those who created the Internet, it does not mean that the approach works for everyone or is effective. Governments should seek private sector and civil society participation in governance. Additionally, the private sector should also seek government and civil society participation when searching for a well-rounded approach to solving a problem.

Multi-stakeholder governance requires that influence and input between government, private and civil sectors be balanced on a global scale before it can realize its promise.