Internet Governance

Take a Brief Survey to Help Strengthen Internet Governance in 2015

2015 is setting up to be another big and busy year for Internet governance discussions.   There are key global, regional and local discussions underway about how to strengthen the multistakeholder Internet governance model in ways that will be meaningful to Internet users around the globe and inclusive of new ideas and perspectives.  Some of the big issues for 2015 include: preparations for WSIS+10; the future of the IGF; the appropriate role of new platforms such as the NETmundial Initiative (NMI); and enabling a successful IANA stewardship transition.

Whew, it’s a lot to cover in one year!  And, of course, we want to hear from you all along the way.

As we think about how to engage in all of these various fora, we’d like to hear about your priorities and views on these important topics.  You’ll recall that late in 2014, following the announcement of the NMI launch, the Internet Society Board of Trustees called for a dialogue amongst our community on whether and how new initiatives in Internet governance should be formed.  The Board also reiterated its support for the IGF as a platform for Multistakeholder dialogue.   At the beginning of this year, the Internet Society CEO, Kathryn Brown, hosted a community forum to kick off community discussion about the critical work we have to do together in 2015.

Our next step is a brief survey on Internet governance to help us determine how to strengthen mechanisms of the Internet governance ecosystem to better address policy challenges in 2015. It is also designed to help the Internet Society to contribute to the current discussions on the evolution of the ecosystem. Your feedback and opinions will help us to understand the collective sentiment of our community and will inform our approach as we look to play our role to address these issues.

The questions should take approximately 10 minutes to complete and we would be grateful if you could find the time to respond.  The survey will be open from 2 to 20 February. A synthesis report of responses will be made available on our website shortly after the survey closes.

Please participate in this survey – it’s important that we hear from you!

Internet Governance

Update on the NETmundial Initiative

I thought I would give you a brief update on stakeholder conversations and developments since the Board issued its statement two and a half weeks ago on the NETmundial Initiative and a sense of what we have learned.

ISOC has been in constant contact with the community, listening to concerns and working toward a constructive way forward.  Our own multistakeholder community has been incredibly useful and insightful with respect to diverse sensitivities. Both before and after the Board’s Statement, you have guided our work.

In the last few weeks we have engaged in constructive discussions with We have had the opportunity to explain our position and discuss alternatives to address not only our concerns, but also broader concerns of other stakeholder groups.  We and have been open and frank in this dialogue; we are pleased to see that many of the issues discussed between our organizations are addressed in the, “Further clarifications on the NETmundial Initiative for discussions in the MAG.” These clarifications are helpful in describing CGI’s intentions with respect to its objectives and its support of the IGF.

While the CGI “Further Clarification” brings more clarity to the discussions and is a positive step forward, it is fair to say that issues, including the need for the NMI Council, its selection, financial transparency and long-term objectives and goals, remain.

Indeed, other important stakeholders in the Internet Governance dialogue have raised significant concerns about the NMI. The IAB has concluded that “no coordination council is needed now.” And, there seems to be a growing consensus that the proposed mapping and other crowdsourcing efforts, should they go forward, should be managed through a bottom-up process. The IAB statement is very helpful in this regard. 

We appreciate that our friends from Brazil have been trying to respond to community concerns. We agree that it is crucial that we move forward together and with partners to make the 2015 Brazil IGF a success. I hope we can build a consensus on how diverse interests, including those of the CGI, can work together to make room for everyone at the table.

Building bottom-up governance processes is one of our highest priorities with respect to governing ourselves on the Internet. The 2014 Sao Paulo Declaration called on the community to join forces, and strive to develop bottom-up needs-based policy solutions, through multistakeholder IGF dialogues. We need to carry through on that promise.

Last week, significant progress was made by the IGF MAG on a Best Practices Report and the need for work between meetings. In addition, the Internet Society, this week, has made a $100,000 contribution to the Internet Governance Forum Support Association. (This is in addition to the $100,000 contribution we made directly to the IGF Secretariat earlier in 2014). We believe that a robust effort is needed to fund the activities of local and regional IGF activities. We are highly supportive of advancing a global, decentralized organization of bottom-up dialogues — the goals of which are community building, issue identification and the development of best practices. We are anxious to understand how the NMI effort will strengthen this emerging bottom-up movement.

As anticipated, a meeting organized by the Board Chairs of ISOC and ICANN, together with the Chairs of the IETF and IAB, is scheduled for December 17. Fadi and I will attend.  We see this as an opportunity to explore our different views on NMI and to improve the coordination between our respective organizations.

Thank you, again, for your input and ongoing support for an open, inclusive Internet.

Internet Governance

2014 – A Crucial Year for the Internet

We are quickly approaching the mid-point in a pivotal year for the evolution of the Internet. 

I recently spoke at the INET Istanbul, which offered another important opportunity for multistakeholder dialogue on critical Internet issues. The INET provided a bridge between two important meetings — just one month after NETmundial in São Paulo, Brazil and a few months ahead of the 9th meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which will also be held in Istanbul in early September. These meetings call upon the international community to reflect on the kind of Internet we want and how we want to answer the many open questions related to its governance and its future.

The core values of the Internet pioneers are deeply rooted in the belief that the human condition can be enhanced through reducing barriers to communication and information. As such, the success of the Internet is based on an open and collaborative approach to policy, standards, and technology development. Without open standards, the Internet would not be the powerful catalyst it is for access to information, freedom of expression, and innovation. 

Unfortunately, there have been, and currently are, many examples of governments using technological measures to restrict access to content deemed undesirable. In fact, the debate on Internet governance is seen by many as another attempt by authoritarian governments to stifle the medium and to gain control over its content.

Internet Governance, the Multistakeholder Process and NETmundial

There are many dimensions to the debate on Internet governance, and the recent NETmundial was a strong signal to the world that the community is seeking to fulfill its commitment towards gaining a better understanding of all those dimensions.

The most important outcome from NETmundial was its endorsement of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance: the conference proved that all stakeholders are able to work together and to move towards convergence and a common understanding on some critical issues. To me, the most encouraging aspect was that governments accepted that other stakeholders had as much to say as they have and that their voice counted as much. This was important, as without a clear signal in this regard, the pressure to move to more traditional, top-down intergovernmental arrangements would have increased and culminated at the Plenipotentiary meeting of the International Telecommunication Union to be held in Busan, Korea, this October.

NETmundial was, however, not able to provide answers to all open questions and concerns. It passed some issues for discussion on to other organizations and platforms, such as the IGF. The IGF is now called upon to produce some tangible outputs.

Next Steps and the IGF

The disclosures last year of pervasive government surveillance programs were akin to a seismic shift in the Internet governance landscape. The large-scale nature of these programs made Internet users realize that the chain of trust ─ which is essential to the good functioning of the Internet ─ had been broken. This realization created a sense of urgency to review current Internet governance arrangements and to rebuild Internet users’ trust in the Internet, its function, and how it fits into society. This was the underlying theme at the 2013 IGF meeting. There was a general agreement that the IGF was the privileged place to pursue these discussions and that the multistakeholder format was the only way forward.

Given the current challenges and given the necessity to restore trust and confidence in the Internet, it is essential to involve all stakeholders, from developed as well as developing countries, in discussions on the future evolution of the Internet. The IGF has proved its worth as a place where the community gathers to share experiences and exchange information. It provides protection, legitimacy, and credibility to the multistakeholder model, since it is the only truly open and inclusive multistakeholder platform under the UN umbrella.

The upcoming IGF in Istanbul should therefore be the starting point for such an evolution. It can take the discussion from NETmundial forward on the long path towards creating a new chain of trust for the Internet and finding a new international consensus on multistakeholder Internet governance.

Internet Governance

Let a Thousand Flowers

A recent misunderstanding at the NETMundial Internet Governance conference in Brazil focused on the meaning of the phrase ‘permissionless innovation’.

‘Permissionless innovation’ is a key technical principle that has guided the Internet’s development and evolution ever since its inception. As Jari Arkko, chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has argued: “Most of the applications in the Internet are the results of grass-roots innovation, start-ups, and research labs. No permit had to be applied, no new network had to be built, and no commercial negotiation with other parties was needed […]”.

At NETMundial, some chose to interpret this long-standing phrase to advocate innovation without any form of permission – imagine some sort of digital anarchy — for instance, without regards for existing intellectual property rights to recorded music or movies. As the Internet Society’s Chief Technology Office, Leslie Daigle pointed out at the time: “[Permissionless innovation] is about fostering innovation, not prompting anarchy”.

This is a significant detail.

Because, the fact is that ‘permissionless innovation’ is about the freedom to experiment and test the limits of human imagination. As Konstantinos Komaitis, Policy Advisor at the Internet Society suggested on another blog post: “It is about allowing people to think, to create, to build, to construct, to structure and to assemble any idea, thought or theory and turn it into the new Google, Facebook, Spotify or Netflix.”

While the immediate issue was resolved at NETMundial, a more recent announcement raises the more profound question of what does ‘permissioned innovation’ look like. On 1 May 2014, the Guardian reported that, a streaming music service in the UK, shut down after its main investor pulled the plug. The services had accumulated more than 1.1 million users in the UK in just over a year, and licensing deals with major record labels, but could not cover the resulting payments. The CEO noted in particular that ‘massive scale’ is required to justify a business case.

Thus, even with permission from the record labels, the resulting economies of scale led to entry barriers that could not surmount, and its main investor could not countenance. While had what, in almost any commercial pursuit would be considered an excellent start – an impressive 1.1 million customers in 16 months – other innovative startups never even reach the launch stage.

In “Copyright and Innovation: The Untold Story”, US scholar Michael Carrier argued that extensive litigation – whether threatened or pursued – focused on companies using digital content has been detrimental to investment and entrepreneurship. The result is that investors are not willing to invest in this area due to legal and economic uncertainty, which in turns reduces the number of startups and innovation.

As described in the term ‘permissionless innovation’, the Internet removes barriers to entry – technical or otherwise – allowing Jeff Bezos to start Amazon in his garage in Washington, Mark Zuckerberg to start Facebook in his dorm at Harvard, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin to start Google in their lab at Stanford. ‘Permissionless innovation’ produces a significant economic effect and creates the conditions for additional points of entry and access.

Digital music – whether streamed or downloaded – requires no physical inventory like Amazon books; no network of friends and family like Facebook; and no ‘secret sauce’ like the PageRank algorithm that propelled Google. Why should permission to sell digital bits not scale with the size of the seller?

In 2012, global revenues of recorded music increased for the first time since 1998, based on the increase in online distributed music. Thus, there is a market for online music, and no reason to restrict the market to just a few large players. With innovative new business models, the industry should be able to bloom.

Internet Governance

NETmundial: Variations on a theme–multistakeholder consensus building in action

The NETmundial conference ended on a high note late Thursday night with the reading of the NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement. The conference was not without contention on a number of issues but the spirit of the event was inspiring and enormously promising. There was a serious and significant effort to find common ground among a diverse group of stakeholders–governments, civil society, public sector Internet companies, technical folks, and academics. The document was carefully created through a homegrown process and reflects, perhaps imperfectly, but nevertheless powerfully, the concerns and aspirations of the participants.

The process was unique in many ways–a draft document was prepared ahead of time based on thousands of comments from more than 180 distinct commentators.  The conference involved a two-day discussion of the document’s contents at an open microphone. Representatives from all participant groups, including governments, lined up at microphones to comment on specific parts of the draft document. With participants watching, an editing team worked to incorporate the comments. An executive committee managed the process and a high level committee composed of members of the various stakeholder groups were called upon to give a first review of the text. And, in the final plenary session, stakeholders who disagreed with the outcome were given an opportunity to air their concerns publicly.

NETmundial highlighted a multistakeholder approach that caused parties to work with each other in a way that was novel to all parties, while combining elements of IETF meetings, U.N. meetings, and even the usual Internet conference with panels of “experts” giving presentations. The NETmundial model was created by the organizers in a way that reflected their own sensibilities around a central commitment to inclusion AND a strong intention to produce a tangible outcome. The time was short and the work was important.  What seemed to provide the momentum toward success was an extraordinary spirit of cooperation and mutual respect.

Given the challenges, what is rather remarkable is the level of consensus reached and the quality of the document produced. The document was described as representing “rough consensus,” a non-binding outcome and it is the case that not everyone was happy with every part of the final statement. There were a number of important issues that needed to be left for another day, but the principles and “roadmap” presented provide a coherent template for further action.

In the next few months, the Internet community will engage in discussions on WSIS; we look forward to the IGF in Istanbul; and we will have a number of opportunities to discuss the transition of the IANA functions. These meetings give us the opportunity to continue to practice and perfect the multistakeholder cooperation demonstrated in São Paulo to get things done.

The conference was a celebration of Brazil. It highlighted a committed, smart, and very capable group of Internet savvy government officials, business professionals, and civil society activists. Developing country stakeholder groups were well represented; indeed, many participants from ISOC Chapters from around the world–including those participating in HUBS remotely–were engaged, compelling, and ready to take charge of their own destiny.

I believe the conference sparked a renewed appreciation for what a multistakeholder process could produce. I imagine that its innovative approach will be studied and replicated in part and in whole throughout the world in our collective efforts to build a global, secure, trusted Internet for all the world’s people.  Congratulations NETmundial for showing us a way forward.

Economy Internet Governance Open Internet Standards

Permissionless Innovation — Openness, not Anarchy

A sign of success of the Internet is the degree to which we take it for granted. Do you trawl Lifehacker and TechCrunch to find the next need-to-have social media tool or cloud service support for your professional or personal pastimes? You’re confident that there will be a next thing, even if you don’t quite know where it is going to come from. Perhaps it’s going to come from you – you are building the next great Internet-based service and are looking for Kickstarter funding to make it real. Who do you need to ask in order to set up the service and make it available over the Internet?

No one.

Of course, that assumes you have the technical wherewithal to build the system and the (financial) ability to put it on a server and network with adequate capacity to operate it. It implicitly suggests that you are building a technology and/or service that will operate within the bounds of existing norms – technical standards, operational practices, and local laws.

This is about fostering innovation, not prompting anarchy.

The phrase “permission-free innovation” is used to describe how the Internet differs from closed telecommunications networks, where only the local operators could build, deploy, and offer new services to their customer base, and that within a stringent regulatory (permission-requiring) regime.

To have some idea of the scope and impact that Internet characteristic has had, consider the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web we just celebrated earlier this year. I observed in a previous post, “The Web is the poster child for the “permission-free innovation” that the Internet has enabled. Sir Tim Berners-Lee did not have to ask a central authority whether or not he could write a client-server hypertext system. He wrote it; others who found the possibilities interesting downloaded clients and servers and started using it.”

In outlining the power of the OpenStand modern paradigm for standards development, IETF Chair Jari Arkko observed in an IETF blog post that the permissionless innovation principle is so core to the Internet’s technology that it is reflected in the approach to standards development that focuses on the importance of creating building blocks.

It’s not just about technology, though. Business has benefitted greatly from this approach, too. Quite honestly – if Mark Zuckerberg had to convince a business board of the sound financial case behind Facebook, would it have been supported as a productized service? Unlikely! It defined a whole new genre of online services that exceeded the imagination of others at the time.

Again, “permissionless innovation” is not about fomenting disruption outside the bounds of appropriate behaviour; “permissionless” is a guideline for fostering innovation by removing barriers to entry.

This topic is particularly timely as the most comments on the outcome document of this week’s NETMundial meeting in Brazil have been focused on this paragraph:

Enabling environment for innovation and creativity

The ability to innovate and create has been at the heart of the remarkable growth of the Internet and it has brought great value to the global society. For the preservation of its dynamism, Internet governance must continue to allow permissionless innovation through an enabling Internet environment.

Comments suggest that readers are interpreting the phrase as an attack on recognition of rule of law and existing intellectual property rights. As outlined above, that’s certainly not the context in which the term was introduced, years ago. Indeed, any serious look at how to handle intellectual property in the Internet age needs to look closely at the advantages brought by the Internet as a platform for innovation. The Internet Society remarked, in its paper on Intellectual Property on the Internet:

Comparably, when we talk about innovation without permission, we should not consider innovation that does not obey to any rules. Clayton Christensen, for instance, has argued that innovation could largely raise the probabilities of success if it complies to four rules: 1) taking root in disruption, (2) the necessary scope to succeed, (3) leveraging the right capabilities and (4) disrupting competitors, not customers. So, when the supporters of the open Internet talk about innovation without permission they refer to the ability of those who want to market new technologies to do so without having to further justify them according to existing business or other related standards. For example, the US Supreme Court has taken a similar view in Sony v. Universal Studios, Inc., where it asserted that new technology innovators do not “carry the burden of persuasion that a new exception to the broad rights enacted by Congress should be established”. We can, therefore, surmise that it is primarily the open architecture of the Internet that encourages innovation – we can call it “open innovation”.

This is a loop we don’t want to close — having come so far from the closed telecommunications networks that defined the last century, let us not undermine the Internet as a platform for innovation – technology, business, content – by taking that permissionless nature for granted.

Internet Governance

Internet Society Observations on the Upcoming NETmundial Meeting

This week, the world’s eyes will turn to Brazil, host of the NETmundial Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance. This meeting is an important opportunity to continue discussions on key Internet governance principles and a roadmap for future action.

We are in the midst of a very busy global policy dialogue on Internet governance and, as the discussion grows, it is more important than ever to be clear about what is meant by the phrase “Internet governance.” This is a discussion that has its origins in the 2003-2005 UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and that has, in the years since, evolved as dynamically as the Internet itself. This year is a particularly busy one for those of us who are focused on these issues – an inflection point that could shape the future of the Internet and its governance.

As we look forward to NETmundial, it is important that we consider the broader context: Internet governance is not about the role of any one stakeholder group (governments, technical organizations, private enterprise, civil society, etc.) but is rather about how we all work together to tackle the challenges that emerge in the context of the Internet. Whether the issues are related to ensuring the robustness and resiliency of Internet security and privacy, advancing the deployment and development of core Internet infrastructure, or any number of other concrete challenges, we need to come together to address issues in ways that do not undermine the fundamental design principles of the Internet. Too much focus on static definitions of the roles and responsibilities of any one stakeholder group could distract our attention from achieving the overall balance that is needed for any successful governance system.

We recognize that this meeting has had a fast-paced preparatory process and that the organizers have made important efforts to enable global, multistakeholder participation. In many ways, this innovative process offers a test case for the longer process of achieving real stakeholder engagement and participation. As with any new event of this kind, there are important lessons from NETmundial that should be learned in terms of transparency, meaningful participation of all stakeholders, and true consensus-building.

In preparation for the meeting, NETmundial organizers held an open call for content contributions to create an outcome document to guide the discussions. To support the process, the Internet Society submitted a number of comments and worked closely with the Internet Technical Community on a contribution that outlines a set of principles that have promoted the development of the Internet since its inception. In this regard, we are pleased that the concepts of openness and transparency of Internet policy and technical development processes are reflected in the draft outcome document. At the same time, however, we believe that important improvements to the outcome document are needed in order to achieve clarity of scope and to ensure that NETmundial positively contributes to the ongoing Internet governance dialogue.


  • The document would benefit from a clarification on the scope of “Internet governance.” Grounding this text in the WSIS Tunis Agenda, particularly in reference to the definition of Internet governance (Tunis Agenda, paragraph 34), is important. In the absence of such clarification, the intent of the document is unclear and there is a persistent confusion throughout the sections between the governance of public policy issues and the technical development processes of the Internet.
  • The multistakeholder model of Internet governance should advance the public interest, support the openness of the Internet, and enable the free flow of information. It respects the responsibilities of diverse stakeholders and is based on open processes which require participants to inform themselves to appropriately engage in the discussion. Those concepts should be reintroduced into the text.
  • The concepts of openness, meaningful participation, transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness are critical for Internet governance as well as for the continued technical development and deployment of a global, interoperable Internet. It is important, however, to recognize the diversity of processes within the current Internet governance ecosystem and that the mechanisms for honoring these principles may differ among organizations.  

The references to strengthening the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) are very helpful and positive. The IGF is an indispensable element of the ecosystem that can address existing questions and identify emerging issues, while coordinating dialogues at international, regional, and local levels. We need to fully take the work of these groups into account, recognize the progress made, and learn from the collective multistakeholder dialogue that groups like the IGF have fostered. As such, this document should focus on the need to strengthen and improve existing Internet governance arrangements rather than calling for the creation of new and possibly duplicative ones. Efforts devoted to developing new mechanisms would take valuable expertise and resources away from strengthening existing arrangements like the IGF and could, ultimately, be counterproductive.

The result of the discussions at the NETmundial meeting will provide an important contribution to the broader Internet governance dialogue. The work accomplished in Sao Paulo must help inform the review of the WSIS and the work of the IGF in Istanbul. This is a time for critical reflection and action and the discussions in Brazil will provide significant input to this process; but, these are not the only inputs.

As we all continue to put the various pieces together, we must remember how the Internet has transformed societies and has empowered people all around the world. We must remember how multistakeholder governance has allowed a diversity of actors to come together, and to exchange and share ideas that have contributed to the evolution of the Internet. And, we must continue to encourage an inclusive exchange of knowledge and know-how.

We look forward to listening to the questions, concerns, and ideas of all stakeholders over the course of NETmundial and to working collaboratively towards workable solutions. For more information see our NETmundial page