THE internet is a system connecting networks around the world using TCP/IP. This is a vast array of networks and with its relevance growing day by day, concerns over whether and how to regulate it seem to be rising. Today, internet governance has become a burning issue.
However, one thing we must be mindful of is that governance does not mean control and it most certainly does not mean exclusive government. Internet governance needs a multistakeholder approach calling for the involvement of various parties, all having a relation with the internet platform. To get an idea of who the multiple stakeholders can be, we can look at the 2005 Tunis World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Declaration which specified internet actors in its Article 49 to include national governments, international organisations, the business sector, civil society and the technical community. Now, despite saying that internet governance is not and should not be the exclusive domain of governments, we must acknowledge their role is immense. Governments are the only entities capable of simultaneously training officials, developing policies and actively participating in international meetings.
But in recent times, the capacity of the private sector has also grown and today, businesses have emerged as active players in internet governance who take a keen interest in regulating the platform for their gains and profits. Domain-name companies are one such business, being the registrars and registries who sell domain names (.com, .net). They have been involved in the broader internet governance policy process with WSIS, Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) for a long time, holding the declared objective of reducing the risk of a potential take-over of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' role by other intergovernmental agencies.
Internet Service Providers are also key online intermediaries. Some providers, particularly from the United States and Europe, have been active in the internet governance processes individually or through national and regional organisations. Telecommunication companies’ stake in internet governance is that they are against net neutrality and their interest is to ensure a business-friendly global environment. Internet content companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter who are concerned about their global outreach and market dominance are also present in the governance debate. Their core business model needs to be considered by government arrangements related to data protection and privacy.
But the most vocal and active promoter of multistakeholderism is the civil society which increases its prominence by forming organisations like the Civil Society Bureau, Civil Society Plenary and Content and Themes Group. To counter the WSIS Declaration, they even released their own ‘Civil Society Declaration.’ But recently they have become divided on whether the government or non-government agencies should play a leading role in governing the internet.
Concerning international organisations, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) was the central international organisation in the WSIS process. It also provided policy input on certain key issues. But the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is also establishing itself on the whole internet governance platform regarding the non-technical aspects of the internet such as social, economic and cultural factors.
The Internet Society is one of the technical community’s main representatives, which advocates for an open internet and plays an active role in capacity building. The technical community is also an important actor in establishing and running the ICANN.
ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is the main internet governance institution. It has recently started practising 'at-large' governance where each sector can contribute from its place without any central body to control the activities. Its decision making is largely informal and based on social capital i.e., trust but due to the rising distrust among the growing number of stakeholders, this decision-making is being affected.