Multistakeholder Internet governance: A pathway completed, the road ahead

Protesters raise their smartphones with screens lit

In a new paper, Stuart N. Brotman reviews the potential barriers facing the U.S. and others in pursuit of multistakeholder governance of the Internet—an authority shift that the U.S. and its allies argue is necessary to preserve the Internet’s openness, flexibility, and global scalability. This approach, articulated over the course of several multilateral Internet governance meetings in the last several years, is opposed by some particularly authoritarian countries that would prefer greater government control over how the Internet functions within their borders. Despite this opposition, the U.S. and its allies are moving forward with this historic transition in Internet governance.

While the path toward multistakeholder Internet governance is set, the contours of the road ahead largely remain undefined. Already the U.S. has extended the multistakeholder transition plan. Brotman asserts that as this plans is refined and improved, the focus should be on the long-term durability and effectiveness of multistakeholder governance model. Despite the equanimity that has been projected during recent years, there should be recognition that all stakeholders are not equally important. Finalization of the transition should include differentiating the relevance of stakeholders at various stages of envisioned development. Along with a process to negotiate this delicate power balance, the forthcoming transition plan should set forth concrete ways that legitimacy will be carefully monitored and managed.

Multistakeholder governance can work in practice, but akin to so many start-up companies, the chances for failure are high and the prospects for success low. Measuring success, calibrating failure and making the necessary course corrections are activities that the multistakeholder Internet governance model inevitably will require over time.