The Value of national Internet Governance initiatives in the Caribbean
Internet Governance and multistakeholderism
The notion of global governance of the Internet has been receiving widespread attention ever since the two-phased World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 and 2005. One of the most significant outcomes of WSIS was the creation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) which brings together a variety of people from different stakeholder groups to openly discuss public policy issues related to the Internet on an equal footing.
This engagement principle relative to the IGF is known as multistakeholderism, although there may not be one set multistakeholder practice among concerned entities for activities that range from participation to decision making for a transnational issue. When it comes to critical Internet resources however, multistakeholderism is still recognised as the best facilitator of sustainable governance frameworks as opposed to anything intergovernmentalism could ever produce. Given the high rate of innovation associated with the medium, its governance should naturally reflect this key characterisitic. Looking at the big picture, Internet Governance (IG) has indeed produced novel concepts in global governance, as it is neither centralised nor anchored in governments but instead embraces recalibrated power and authority in a distributed network.
The principle of multistakeholderism had been cited countless times in the Tunis Agenda. In particular, Article 80 of the Agenda calls specifically for multistakeholder 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.”
While some international relations theorists may argue that globalisation has diminshed the relevance of national boundaries – a sentiment that is echoed by some Internet idealists albeit admittedly the routing of Internet traffic does not respect any boundaries – the above mentioned Article is more accepting of layers or levels of governance where a common denominator is set as a target among communities despite varying stakes and interests among stakeholder types. If we use Yochai Benkler’s three-layer conceptualisation of the Internet consisting in the physical infrastructure layer, the technical standards layer and the content and applications layer, we can begin to better visualise the correlations of development efforts with the Internet. For example, a set of national communities in the developing world may place a premium on Internet connectivity and access and deploying Internet infrastructure such as IXPs, while another set may be more inclined to focus on privacy, security and intellectual property concerns in tandem with Internet development at their location.
These differences in priorities remind us that while we all need to maintain global interoperability of the Internet to continue to enjoy its benefits and leverage networked governance to arrive at broad solutions, localising issues including the implications of global policy is one of the chief ways of pursuing effective Internet development and ensuring robust IG. The complexity and multidimensionality of Internet issues are some of the key reasons for multistakeholder approaches as the exigencies of new forms of governance include new knowledge-building, policy formulation and negotiation processes, and it may even be possible that expertise and solutions to these complex problems are closer to users at the edge of the network as opposed to traditional actors at the core of governance. There are, nonetheless, nuances between broad ideas and solutions proposed at the global level and their suitability along different tiers of the global Internet community.
Some observers have noticed that stakeholders from many developing countries, who constitute the great majority of new Internet users, are either scarce or altogether absent from global IG dialogue. At the surface, it may appear to be a for-or-against proposition for forums such as global IGF but the reasons run much deeper than that. There may be an underlying issue that is attendent to multistakeholder approaches for IG, which deals with demonstrated interest, expertise and resources by participants in global dialogue. Demonstrated interest is indeed in keeping with the spirit of multistakeholderism and serves as an equalizer among stakeholder types, especially governments used to conducting club diplomacy in international relations. Expertise can be seen to bolster demonstrated interest, but can be specific to an individual as opposed to a stakeholder group depending on the meeting. Resources are more implicit and serve as determinants to effective participation in global IG dialogue, or sometimes mobilisation to pursue action having adequately identified an issue and its solution.
What is more, there is specific challenge regarding the constraints some small communities face when compared with large ones, which include but are not limited to: knowledge divides, low capacity, numerical shortcomings and low potential to “punch above one’s weight”. Most times, learning curves in global IG dialogue are overcome through consistent participation of a stakeholder. Even when finances are not an issue for Caribbean stakeholders, the scope of issues at an international meeting may be overwhelming for the very individuals that are expected to juggle participation with every tasks at their job. Coincidentally, less organisation around IG issues and weaker governance structures in small communities affect their room to manoeuvre in global IG dialogue and lend to the perception of exclusion. Inasmuch that there are still challenges in global IG dialogue of all sorts, it would be of added-value to scrutinise regional and national IG dialogue with a view to enhancing it from within.
Regional IG dialogue in the Caribbean
While we often speak about the proliferation of regional and national Internet Governance dialogue as ensuing from the global IGF, it is interesting to note that the Caribbean had been at the forefront of this type of activity owing to its ingenious approach to WSIS, and in particular the second phase. The Caribbean IGF – the world’s first regional, multistakeholder IGF – was held from 5 to 6 September, 2005 in Georgetown, Guyana with the support of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU). Anticipating the impact that WSIS would have on its regional development, the Caribbean IGF was used to establish a regional policy framework that would, inter alia, stimulate harmonised national policies and facilitate the exchange of best practices in IG, as a means of coping with resource constraints for Internet public policy formulation across these small and micro communities. To better describe how the Caribbean IGF works, various stakeholders from across the region come together to discuss issues deemed as priorities with the aim of producing a non-binding output document that will guide Caribbean policymakers and mobilise existing regional organisations for various aspects of IG.
This policy framework, known as the Caribbean Internet Governance Framework (CIGF), is a work-in-progress set against the backdrop of the region’s ambitions to forge a Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME). It outlines six strategic areas for IG policy development in the Caribbean including Infrastructure for Broadband Connectivity, Internet Technical Infrastructure and Operations, Legal Frameworks and Enforcement, Internet Content Development and Management, Public Awareness and Capacity Building and Research.
Value of national IG dialogue in the Caribbean
Judging by policy rhetoric, the Caribbean has recognised for a very long time the value of the Internet and Internet Governance for its own social and economic development. So why then should the Caribbean turn to national IG dialogue almost a decade later? To answer this question we may need to take account of the Caribbean reality and reflect once again on the concept of levels of IG. Here are three assertions on the Caribbean Internet reality that may warrant further analysis:
– Though characteristically small in size, Caribbean Internet development is relatively disparate across communities, resource limitations are signficant and as a result regional priority identification becomes difficult. A quick glance at regional statistics on ICT/Internet development would reveal that some territories are undeniably more advanced than others. Most statistics, however, are largely centred on telecommunications infrastructure and there is often a dearth of data to support the variety of issues featured in Internet Governance debate. This issue, however, may not be unique to the Caribbean.
– There has been a low impact of previous actions addressing Internet Governance. Linked to the previous assertion, despite the awareness of activity and interventions by external agencies, statistics reveal that ICT/Internet development might be quite slow across many territories or perceived to be at a standstill.
– Pathways to advocacy and policy entrepreneurship for Internet issues at national levels are not very visible if they exist. Even when Caribbean stakeholders participate in global or regional IGFs, situating the context of debates or understanding clearly how to use newly acquired knowledge to effect change may be problematic. The issue of pathways relies strong on cultural tendancies within the national community.
To understand why national IG dialogue is needed we can also draw from Lawrence Lessig’s appreciation of the technological architecture of the Internet and its governance, which facilitates distributed governance of the global resource and the diversity of its communities of users. Though beneficial to some extent, the CIGF’s centralised approach from infrastructure to social issues unfortunately cannot compensate for disparate knowledge and awareness levels across stakeholders, and may be hindered until such time that organic, bottom-up dialogue occurs for problem identification, solution finding, implementation and enforcement. The question of solutions and/or recommendations should be inevitably reconciled with the culture and politics of the concerned national community.
Furthermore, given that Caribbean Internet realities are more heterogenuous granularly, national IG bodies appeal to the principle of subsidiarity to address IG issues at the appropriate level, and complementarity to help raise the profile of the local implications of global policy. While subsidiarity and complementarity may bolster IG within small communities in its own right, we can also anticipate that national IG dialogue seeks to address capacity issues along the way and ultimately support Internet development within national communities through increased instances of policy entrepreneurship and private ordering. What do we mean by these concepts?
We can roughly define subsidiarity as the application of the most practical problem-to-solution approach based on locality. Insofar that national frameworks on their own are insufficient to address transnational Internet issues, where some solutions are devised they may exclude the particularities faced by a particular national community, especially in the absence of effective participation. However, by their very nature global solutions to Internet issues will tend to be broad for a number of reasons, including exclusion of specific cultures and values, and the general level of compromise required to achieve rough consensus. Subsidiarity provides one of the best means of promoting knowledgeable users and experts within a national community from the edge to the centre of IG and can encourage effective knowledge sharing where issues commonly affect users at a location.
Like subsidiarity, complementarity is useful in knowing when and how to elevate an issue, and develop momentum for the same. This may be extremely useful in conducting advocacy, where one would want to build support for a proposition that he/she believes should be considered at higher levels. Complementarity should also consider the varying levels of discussion on the online world, as well as the offline one, as they complementarily foster knowledge validation among stakeholders.
As far as the Caribbean is concerned, the Caribbean IGF already serves as a platform to garner support of a proposition at the regional level. National IG dialogue stands to strengthen this activity, and can possibly leverage the Caribbean IGF as an intermediary step to raising an issue in global IG dialogue.
Under capacity building we can look more closely at the acquisition of technical/theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge or know-how. Discourse on national IG facilitate critical analysis and can assist in identifying gaps in technical knowledge, while the act of participating under a mutually set number of principles lend towards practical knowledge and problem-solving. As with any multistakeholder process a considerable amount of collective learning takes places through the multitude of engagement and exchange. National IG dialogue adds another avenue for stakeholders within national communities to share experiences, learn through interdisciplinary exchanges and better understand and identify local issues and shortcomings through discourse.
The culmination of new knowledge-building, policy formulation and negotiation processes enhance the implementability and enforcement prospects of solutions and/or recommendations. While some solutions must ultimately rely on the acquiscience of the government, there are a number of opportunities for non-state actors to take charge of certain governance aspects, whether through, inter alia, the establishment of community rules and oversight of the same by said community or private ordering as done by some information intermediaries. Enhanced national community engagement is certainly one of the essential ways to support the empowerment of members of those communities so that they can share their values and perspectives before Internet actors in pursuit of an open, stable and secure Internet. For Caribbean stakeholders, having a greater understanding of the multiple levels of governance is also a fundamental step in conducting advocacy, policy entrepreneurship or private ordering.
There is no fixed formula as to the extent to which national IG dialogue should be formalised. Within the wider Latin American and Caribbean region, the experiences in national IG dialogue within three countries, namely Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, demonstrate that any mix of approaches as encouraged by the culture and objectives of a community serves the intention of making IG more robust at the national level. Mexico convenes an informal multistakeholder committee to increase understanding in IG, and places emphasis on representativity by having two representatives participate from five identified stakeholder groups (Civil Society and End-Users, Academia, Private Sector, Technical Community, Government). In Colombia, all stakeholder groups are officially convened and organised before participation at an international IG meeting and are in tune with that Government’s national IG strategy, in which issue, stakeholder and forum identification are key elements. Argentina has sought to formalise its national IG dialogue with the creation of an Argentine Commission for Internet Policy which supports an internal multistakeholder process while coordinating state representation at international IG meetings. There is, undoubtedly, merit to each type of approach based on preconditions and resources.
 Key view expressed in Kleinwächter W [ed] (2011) #2 Internet Policy Making. Multistakeholder Internet Dialog Co:llaboratory Discussion Paper Series, No. 1. Available at http://www.collaboratory.de/index.php?action=ajax&title=- &rs=SecureFileStore::getFile&f=/1/14/Mind_02_neu.pdf