Internet governance and WSIS: who won? In a certain way, the world has won
Carlos A. Afonso

There is a bit of confusion in the interpretation of the results from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) which had its second phase ended in Tunis in November, 2005. For some nothing changed, but the truth is that the WSIS process as a whole has led to several important gains. Actually, the entire WSIS process during these five years (the initial proposal for a summit was born in 2000) has contributed enormously to make the general public aware of relevant ICT-related concepts and actions for social inclusion and human development.

First of all, the very idea of Internet governance was not known or considered by the main media or even many specialists. WSIS has not only made this issue widely known, but sparked a worldwide discussion on its need and implications. Also, WSIS has shown that there are multiple aspects of the Internet (content, connectivity, security, freedom of expression, right to privacy etc) which require some form of coordination or governance, and which go well beyond the governance of the logical infrastructure – the set of functions currently performed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Today there is no doubt not only about the relevance of Internet governance, but also on the need to debate global governance mechanisms. Further, WSIS helped to establish the dominant vision that, whatever the Internet governance mechanisms which might be estabilshed, they should always be multilateral (all national governments), pluralist (all stakeholders), democratic (clear mechanisms for decision making with broad participation), and transparent (information generated by all processes and debates fully disclosed to the public).

In addition, if anything has significantly changed in the discussions during the last few weeks before the Tunis summit, it was the position of the USA government. Until Prepcom 3, in October, the idea agreed upon by most countries, including Brazil, India, the European Union and several other countries, of at a minimum creating a global Internet governance advisory forum, ended up being accepted by the USA. This forum is supposed to be a multilateral, pluralist space to monitor, advise and formulate policy propositions, but with no oversight power. The approved Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is scheduled to have its opening meeting in Athens, in June, 2006, and is to be organized as soon as possible with UN's support.

The USA have agreed with the need and urgency of the IGF, but this has not been the only advance coming from WSIS regarding Internet governance. Further, there was consensus that:

- No country should get involved in decisions of any kind related to the national top level domain name (ccTLD) of another country.

- Public policy principles are needed in relation to the governance of global domain names (generic top level domain names, gTLDs, and sponsored top level domain names, sTLDs).

- An enhanced cooperation process among national governments on international public policy related to Internet governance is needed.

These are advances which still do not mean the establishment of a global governance mechanism, but for sure reveal a promising beginning towards that objective.

WSIS has also contributed to raise public awareness on the importance of “digital inclusion” (universal access to ICTs, enhancing participation and empowering people through access and use of these instruments) for human development. The summit has shown the need to create supporting mechanisms for the least developed countries to benefit from these technologies. It has also shown that global, pluralist governance mechanisms are fundamental even to make sure that advances in freedom to communicate, freedom of expression and of knowledge which the Internet has brought to hundreds of millions are consolidated and broadened.

Today the Internet has nearly one billion users, but only a small minority of the poor receive its benefits. But WSIS managed to raise the problems and possible solutions for going ahead in the path to universalize access and effectively democratize the benefits of the so-called “information society”.

Non-business civil society entities who have been participated in the WSIS process since its beginning have exerted a crucial role in contributing effectively to the above mentioned results. Even with resource limitations (which have taken a heavy toll on the participation of less developed countries) this was a demonstration of the importance of pluralism in these processes. As nothing is perfect, civil society did not yet manage to agree on a detailed proposal regarding worlwide oversight of the Internet, but the IGF will be a space for deepening this debate.

See another papers by the author, produced in the context of the WSIS Papers project:

--> Internet Governance - A Review in the Context of the WSIS Process (PDF format)

--> A global Internet governance forum: The view from Brazil (PDF format)

See also:

--> Briefing Papers towards Tunis

--> All WSIS Papers research papers

--> Download the book "Information Society for the South: Vision or Hallucination" in PDF format

World Summit on the Information Society II - November 2005
The second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a global event aimed to improve access by all countries to information, and communication technologies (ICTs) to promote development, will take place in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005.

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