Shared Responsibility: Towards More Inclusive Internet Governance

Binary Virtually Light Flickr
Source: Virtually Light / Flickr
Taejun Shin
24 Apr 2015, 
published in
Global Governance Futures (GGF)

This is a final report of the Global Governance Futures 2025 program which brings together young professionals to look ahead and recommend ways to address global challenges. The final report is to be presented by the program’s internet governance working group May 6th, 2015 at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC.

The full report is available for download.

Executive Summary

As a globally accessible information network, the Internet depends on key institutions and frameworks to manage the various technological, political, economic and social dimensions associated with its operation. With the aim of strengthening the Internet governance system, this report addresses the current difficulties associated with those institutions and frameworks by exploring two scenarios for how Internet governance might appear in 2025, a decade after the publication of this report. At one end of the analytical spectrum lies cooperation among stakeholders; at the other end, the collapse of the status quo. The report analyzes the opportunities and threats related to both scenarios in order to derive three major strategic policy implications to help shape the future of Internet governance.

The Cyber Davos” scenario takes us to the year 2025, when policymakers from around the globe and CEOs of the world’s largest Internet companies gather for a meeting of the Xiamen Internet Forum, a new annual discussion venue on Internet governance, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Internet Free Trade Agreement (iFTA). This agreement traces its roots to 2015, when the United States gave up its role overseeing the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). That event sparked a series of unexpected cross-border mergers and acquisitions between the US and China. Nearly a decade later, world leaders – drawing inspiration from the rapid liberalization of the global information and communications technology (ICT) sector and the exchange of human capital – signed the Internet Free Trade Agreement, despite opposition from civil society groups.

This picture of relative harmony stands in stark contrast to our second scenario, called Google Shock,” in which trust in Internet companies collapses, resulting in significant economic damage to US and European information technology (IT) sectors. These events were triggered by the shocking revelation in 2015 that ties between American and European Internet companies and intelligence agencies were stronger than suspected. What followed was a substantial capital drain from American and European IT sectors, as well as the rise of Chinese Internet corporate giants. Meanwhile, deteriorating relations between NATO member states and Russia have led to a major conflict in cyberspace, causing loss of life and additional economic damage.

These scenarios present both threats and opportunities for policymakers. While Cyber Davos” features a more secure and interdependent Internet governance system, the scenario also involves the threat of a governance system dominated by corporations, exacerbating economic and social inequalities globally. By contrast, the Google Shock” scenario highlights the devastating consequences of growing insecurity in ICT systems and that insecurity’s devastating impact on economic growth. But the scenario also boasts a more balanced and equitable Internet economy, which comports with the realities of rising economies in the developing world.

Upon considering these two extreme scenarios, and the opportunities and threats that arise from them, we reach three major strategic policy recommendations. First, the global Internet corporate landscape should be diversified through increased competition and the facilitation of new business hubs. Additionally, we identify ways to engage with diverse voices on Internet governance issues and to enable the increased participation of the developing world. Finally, we emphasize that greater transparency and accountability could advance the credibility of existing institutional mechanisms, and we propose ways in which both multi-stakeholder and multilateral efforts could converge towards a more inclusive Internet governance ecosystem.