The Question Of Who Controls The Future Of The Internet Is Still Unanswered

The United Nations General Assembly will meet in New York at the end of this year to continue the debate on who should control the Internet. A prelude to that conference took place this week in Brazil at the annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The issue was debated between those supporting a “multistakeholder” or a “multilateral” control of the web. Essentially – who should make decisions about the evolution of the Internet’s future?

Being a “multistakeholder” means that everyone – including civil society, the tech community, businesses and governments – will have an equal say over the Internet’s future. A “multilateral” approach means that governments will have the ultimate control, with other groups invited to advise.

In a sure sign that the governments of the world remain divided over this critical issue, the official summary of the IGF released by the conference’s chair made no mention of that very issue. Instead, the summary of the conference described the discussion as “facilitating policy debates.” The foremost discussion point of the conference was essentially deliberately omitted.

Those who argue for the multistakeholder approach include the United States, the United Kingdom and most Western nations. In large part, this is due to the fact that their societies have a far greater influence on decisions.

As expected, on the other side of the argument lie the authoritarian regimes of Russia, Iran, China, etc. They view the multilateral model as the better model so that their governments can have a far greater influence of the Internet’s future.

And, there are some countries that fall somewhere in the middle, including Brazil, Turkey and India. While India was recently persuaded to display more support towards the multistakeholder approach, both Turkey and Brazil are still hesitant.

The distinction between the two mindsets is sucking up a ton of of time and energy in the circles of Internet governance and it appears that there is no movement in either direction.

If nothing happens, the status quo will likely remain, with one significant exception: at about this time next year, the United States government is expected to finally yield control of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions to domain overseer the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN.)

Once that transfer takes place, more countries will likely shift their support away from the Russian/Chinese perspective on Internet control and more towards the multistakeholder model. Without America in control, that argument seems more reasonable.