Summary to come.

The 175 countries participating in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which took place in two phases (Geneva 2003 and Tunis 2005), agreed to a non-binding framework for global Internet governance. The Geneva Declaration of Principles set out a number of general Internet governance goals, specified the roles and responsibilities of governments, the private sector, civil society, intergovernmental and other international organizations in achieving these goals, and established norms to guide cooperative action involving these different actors. Acting on the report of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) that was set up to help prepare WSIS-II, the Tunis phase reaffirmed the principles that had been agreed at Geneva, adopted a working definition of Internet governance, and identified a number of high-priority public policy issues related to Internet governance that would be part of the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society.

At both Geneva and Tunis, negotiations on Internet governance appeared doomed to failure and were only rescued through last minute compromises that in classic fashion left all parties more or less equally (dis)satisfied with the results. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that the positions of some of the main parties to the negotiations had, if anything, hardened between WSIS-I and -II, a comparison of the state of debate about global Internet governance before the first phase of the summit in December 2003 and after the second phase in November 2005 appears to show that significant progress was made in dispelling misconceptions, developing a common understanding of the nature and scope of Internet governance, and finding a way forward. In particular, by the end of WSIS-II all parties to the summit process – i.e. industry and civil society actors as well as governments – appear to have agreed that:

  • ‘Governance’ is not the same as ‘government’

  • The Internet governance universe is complex and involves many different types of issues, actors, institutions, and rules

  • Because of its architecture, effective Internet governance requires global approaches and multi-stakeholder processes

  • There is no one governance size that fits all – different multi-stakeholder models are needed in different issue areas

  • There would be benefit in creating a multi-stakeholder Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to continue discussion, exchange information, identify emerging issues, facilitate cooperation, and promote coordination

These points are among the principal findings and recommendations of the final WGIG report. They are also consistent with the findings of a forum held at the OII in May 2005.

Six months after Tunis, the seminar will ask ‘Where are we now?’ and discuss ‘Where do we go from here?’ with respect to the global Internet governance framework that emerged from the summit process. It will first address these questions from a short-term perspective by reviewing developments since WSIS and preparations for the inaugural IGF meeting in Greece, 30 October – 2 November, 2006. Drawing on the experience of the presenter both as a WGIG member and as a participant in other Internet-related governance projects, the seminar will then examine a number of more basic, longer-term questions concerning global Internet governance raised by the WSIS framework, such as the following:

  • What is a multi-stakeholder governance process? How does it differ from other governance processes involving different stakeholders (e.g. survey, consultation, negotiation)? Where does it fit in the governance spectrum? What are its benefits and costs? What lessons can be learned from the WGIG/WSIS experience about designing and operating multi-stakeholder processes?

  • How will the development of new network architectures, technologies, applications and services (eg Future Internets, Next Generation Networks, Ubiquitous Networks, Grids, etc.) affect Internet governance and its relationship to telecommunications and content governance? Will the Internet governance geography mapped by WGIG and the framework agreed by WSIS remain a useful guide in the emerging converged, competitive, IP-saturated, ubiquitously networked environment? Or will the map have to be re-drawn and the framework revised?

  • How should the ‘research community’ (including its natural science, engineering, and social science components) be involved in Internet governance processes? As one or more separate stakeholder groups providing impartial information, analysis and advice? As members of one or another of ‘the big three’ – ie private sector, civil society, and government? As some of each? Whatever role is appropriate, are there things that should be done to strengthen links within the research community and with global Internet governance processes?