National Internet Governance Initiatives in the Region: Origins, Development and Future

10/06/2019

Management nodes

By Carolina Aguerre*

In 2005, the Tunis Agenda asked the UN Secretary-General to convene a new forum for multistakeholder policy dialog, which led to the creation of the Internet Governance Forum as we know it today. It also encouraged the “development of multi-stakeholder processes at the national, regional and international levels to discuss and collaborate on the expansion and diffusion of the Internet as a means to support development efforts to achieve internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals.” (WSIS, 2005, par. 80.)

Almost a decade after the birth of the IGF, several national, subnational, and regional thematic forums (also known as “NRI”)** have been growing in number. These initiatives have contributed to the creation of spaces for debate, dialog, and the coordination of multistakeholder policy at a local level. Moreover, their goal was to address local issues in relation to Internet governance and, at the same time, to create feedback loops between local and national processes, following in the steps of the IGF. In 2018, the IGF Secretariat had collected general information about almost 100 different initiatives: over 70 national IGFs, around 17 regional and sub-regional IGFs, and 10 Youth IGFs (convened at the national and regional level).

In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), the first regional IGF (called LACIGF) took place in 2008, and, from that moment on, it has been held every year. Since then, ten different countries in the region have hosted it. This is a milestone for a developing continent that is still fighting to connect the remaining 50% of its population to the Internet. In spite of the importance of Internet governance regional and national mechanisms —as acknowledged in the Tunis Agenda— it wasn’t until 2011 that the first national event in the region (Brazil) was organized, and it was only after 2013 that these national IGFs started to emerge as a clear and constant pattern in LAC.

“IG National Initiatives” are processes that take place within the domestic sphere of specific countries, and they follow the general characteristics defined by the Global IGF in paragraphs 72 and 73 of the Tunis Agenda. These characteristics are:

  • To meet periodically.
  • To build a space to discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance (including, among others, critical Internet resources).
  • To facilitate discourse between bodies dealing with different crosscutting public policies (national and international) regarding the Internet.
  • To identify emerging issues (including the ones that emerge from the use and misuse of the Internet), and bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the public, and, where appropriate, make recommendations.
  • To interface with relevant organizations on matters related to Internet governance in general.
  • To facilitate the exchange of information and best practices among groups of multistakeholders.
  • To build on the existing structures of Internet governance, with special emphasis on the complementarity between all stakeholders involved in this process, among other efforts.

Taking this into consideration, this article is based on national IG initiatives in LAC countries, namely: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela and Uruguay. These have already developed their own Internet governance national mechanisms, and are now in different formalization stages.

NRIs are relevant because they represent a relatively new and independent phenomenon within the evolving IG ecosystem. Their institutional development, the organizational features of each stage, their processes and their local and international impact. At the same time, while NRIs mimic the format and processes of the global IGF, it is important to know whether their scope and competence remain in national settings, supporting or rebutting the statements on the relevance of the current role and structure of the IGF, which are currently under review.

Key Issues and Approaches

The study was based on surveys and interviews with several representatives of initiatives in the region (the inclusion of the Caribbean remains pending for a second stage in 2019.) The results of the first surveys and mapping include up until May of 2018, and are publicly available in Spanish, Portuguese and English on the website: https://miglac.org/.

he results of this study are shown below, divided into three main dimensions: themes, structure and institutional aspects, and political impact of the initiatives.

i. Themes

While Internet infrastructure and the digital gap are, without a doubt, a key aspect in the region, they are not the main issue in most of these forums. Cybersecurity, surveillance and human rights on the Internet have become common issues in most national IGFs. Sometimes, these debates are based on the national situation, but occasionally, they focus on global issues. During the last two years, the topics related to the concept of “digital economy” have been on the spotlight in national IGFs in Peru, Panama, Argentina, and Trinidad and Tobago. Finally, many national IGFs hold debates on metagovernance, the rules and mechanisms for interaction among multistakeholders in these governance procedures. This is a common characteristic of these events, generally established (as with the global IGF) as a “balance” session to assess government procedures and take measures to improve engagement, representation, and impact.

ii. Structural and Institutional Aspects

One of the most common patterns of the initiatives is their format. They do not have big differences when it comes to organizational structure and financing sources. It is commonly believed that NRIs must include multistakeholder principles and try to increase and promote the engagement of more and different actors, including “traditional” IG measures, as well as foster diversity and demographic inclusion (gender, disability, ethnic, rural communities minorities, etc.). These efforts to include a variety of multistakeholders can also be seen in the choice to assign resources for the provision of allowances to improve participation, where 37% provides some sort of help. The influence of the global regime is present in references to IGF, IGFSA, the ISOC chapters, and ccTLDs: they all make up a set of relations, agendas, and perspectives that build bridges between the local and international spheres.

As regards the format of organizing committees, countries like Brazil have chosen the structure of a multistakeholder committee (the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee - CGI.br) as the organizing entity for the national IGF. In turn, Bolivia has conducted a series of “preparatory communications” before organizing its first IGF. Taking into account that most of these countries have little or no experience in multistakeholder institutionalized procedures, many people perceive the consolidation of these initiatives as an opportunity to add more preparation mechanisms to the debate related to the Internet, and as part of a broader experience in the making of national policy.

Costa Rica, for instance, had already established its own national multistakeholder Committee (Internet Advisory Council) in 2012, but saw the national IGF as an opportunity to create a portfolio with a more diverse group of actors in debates on Internet governance at the domestic level.

iii. Impact on Policy

One of the most urgent challenges for these initiatives is the difficulty in assessing their impact on the broader policy-making environment, both at the national and international levels. While the majority of stakeholders that participate in the organization of these initiatives are aware of the difficulties in making a direct connection between a national IGF and policy results, there is pressure to show the results.

Such eagerness regarding the results becomes apparent for NRIs that are actually just annual activities instead of permanent and ongoing efforts. If it is perceived that these events have no effect on the policy-making process or the general national ecosystem, incentives for participation might decrease. This type of effect where “reality strikes” may explain, at least in part, the tendency shown by this project as regards the decrease in participation rates (see chart). Therefore, one of the most important challenges for the NRIs is to identify and establish specific criteria to assess the success of these initiatives, mimicking a process of assessment similar to the one used by the global IGF 2014.

CHART: Number of participants on each national initiative in the first and last editions.

For the time being, most of the initiatives cannot establish a causal relationship of the impact on policy results or private sector procedures (Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic). Interviewees attributed this lack of impact mostly to the level of maturity of the national initiatives. According to them, it is still “too soon” to see real and lasting results. The process of establishing NRIs is deeply rooted in the specific context of a country/region. Experiences at the national level are not only important to raise awareness and promote a general understanding of Internet governance, but also to contribute to the quality and general development of Internet policy for the countries in the LAC region. However, most initiatives recognize that, even though the impact on policymaking is desirable, the forum only has an indirect effect on national Internet policy itself.

Final Comments and Next Steps

There are multiple risks and challenges for the continuation of these initiatives. They range from sustainability issues to low work indexes from one edition to the other, like elitization problems and issues related to the their legitimacy when they fail to attract key actors of the national ecosystem, including, among others, those in charge of the implementation of public policy.

The research behind this article makes it clear that the practice of multistakeholder Internet governance is not smooth in all national initiatives, but it takes on different forms and interpretations. In most cases, the initiatives have managed to capture some important aspects of the multistakeholder model. Future research could look into the long-term effects of multistakeholder governance procedures in other national policy spheres, as well as the differences among countries in the development of such governance models. It could also analyze participation rates and provide a better understanding of the roles that elites and national experts play in relation to IG and the “professionalization” of these spaces that are supposed to be open and participatory.

After two decades in existence, we find that there is a need for a more critical understanding of the impact of multistakeholder Internet governance procedures at the international level. The international IGF is currently under revision to deal with important changes to its format, extension and scope, and many have recognized the need for a better work in-between sessions. Ongoing NRI research can provide information on the role that national initiatives can play to legitimize multistakeholder Internet governance procedures. It can also give us constant and local feedback, and potentially have a greater impact on national policy.

- The original post was published in the LACTLD Report No. 11


* This article is based on the research Mapping National Internet Governance Initiatives in Latin America (2018), conducted by Carolina Aguerre, Diego Canabarro, Agustina Callegari, Louise Marie Hurel and Nathalia Sautchuk Patrício. The report and the data collected are available at: https://miglac.org/.

** Acronym for National and Regional Initiative.