Internet Governance: A Case for Variable Geometry?

3 September 2014 - A Workshop on Other in Istanbul, Turkey

Brief substantive summary of the workshop and presentation of the main issues that were raised during the discussions

The multi‐stakeholder model has been an important factor for the success of the Internet. However it is necessary to recognize that the Internet governance dynamics have changed. The new dynamics among stakeholders is associated with an overall increase of complexity and differentiation and suggests that it is increasingly difficult for one single governance regime to address the broad range of concerns associated with today’s Internet.

The workshop addressed this issue by suggesting an evolution of the current model towards a multistakeholder model with variable geometry, to allow for a better interplay among the different actors of the governance process and a better match between discrete governance issues and the suitable institutions available.

While all stakeholders need to participate in the multi-stakeholder model on equal footing when different governance issues and institutions are envisaged and discussed, then in the implementation of the governance process one stakeholder or a coalition of stakeholders (variable geometry) could take the lead according to the nature of the governance issue at stake: e.g. standards (the private sector), Internet issues relevant to particular communities (civil society), human rights (government). Furthermore, the variable geometry model encompasses not only variation among institutions but also decentralized internet governance processes to allow for geographical variation.

The workshop emphasized that the variable geometry approach is also used in the WTO negotiations to allow for the necessary flexibility in the system both in terms of tailoring the commitments to different countries as well as in terms of allowing different members to go ahead at faster speed while not precluding the others from joining later. For this reason this approach is also politically well accepted.

The workshop addressed the key question of how to cope with these changes preserving the openness, inclusiveness, transparency and bottom up approach of the multi stakeholder model.

Panellists from government, business, civil society, regulatory agencies and the technical community agreed that the flexibility that this model would offer could enrich the openness, inclusiveness, transparency and bottom up approach of the multi stakeholder model making it stronger.

Conclusions drawn from the workshop and possible follow up actions

Civil society: while we are used to think about the locus of decisions as being decided in advance, (for instance you are committed to a UN institution or to bilateral negotiations) with variable geometry your choice of decision making venue becomes part of the strategy itself.

This has a series of implications:

• A move towards regionalism: different actors are choosing to opt in and allocate certain issues to each venue based on what they perceive to be their interests. Therefore we these venues are: the European Commission but also the OECD, the G7 and the G20.
• The importance of coercive force is reduced. Most of these situations arise where there is no clear allocation of decision makers. Therefore, it is necessary to attract people to your proposed venue. But this does not happen by using negative inducements but typically by positive inducement.
• This implies that instead of worrying about your own interest exclusively, you have to think of it as collective solution: how to get people to cooperate in.
• In this sense it is a fundamental change in what we are doing and in this context, the Internet Governance Forum has a chance to play a very distinctive role in this space.

Government: We are accountable to our citizens

• Governments have a specific role: law enforcement, making regulations. There are many subjects in the hands of the private sector and some other organisations but at the same time there is need for regulation and reviews by governments at the local level. So this makes the role of government more challenging because governments are accountable to their citizens.

Technical community: preserving bottom up approach and offer flexible and decentralized solutions to the governance issues

• Thinking in a multistakeholder way is an approach. And therefore, every community is likely to adapt aspects of it to be able to address and solve the problems.
Problems are becoming more complex and sometimes even undecidable. But one can narrow the complexity and derive some solutions. This process requires expertise and flexibility
• The leadership is voluntary. And depends on the subject matter. In other words, as different stakeholders gravitate towards a problem, it becomes evident who actually are the best people to address the problems. You can see it in the passion and in the issues that they raise. So let this process happen organically.
• For some organizations, variable geometry it is a kind of lifeblood. It means establishing decentralized collaborative processes. There is consensus on this idea and it is important to champion Telecom Italia for taking public leadership on this matter.
• But what we don't have yet is a very widespread understanding outside our Internet community as to how to implement some of these ideas. How to take the next step. And perhaps that is partly to do with the lack of familiarity with these issues. But we should embrace this process. I don't think it matters where you start either from a topic or from a country. There should be many pathways, many platforms
• And the IGF is a marvelous place to pull those together. To see the common threads. And to come together both here, globally, but also at regional IGFs to implement this process.

Regulatory agencies: variable geometry is a way to realize a more effective governance of Internet

• Variable geometry is a very interesting idea because through differentiation of responsibilities in the Internet governance process, it is possible to strike a balance between a wide participation, which is a basic principle of the Internet governance, and the effective implementation on the Internet governance process.
• In this context, regulators could introduce a new form of expertise in the definition of core global principles helpful to design a better Internet governance,

Business: variable geometry as a forward looking approach to internet governance

• The technological and economic environment of the Internet has dramatically changed since the mid '90s. Today the Internet is much more diverse and dynamic than in the past. The governance has become more complex. For instance, some issues like privacy and cyber security are now at the forefront of the global debate. With some other more traditional issues such as the coordination of the Internet technical infrastructure calling for a timely and effective globalization of ICANN and IANA functions,
• It is necessary to recognize that the relevant stakeholders may vary from issue to issue. It is exactly the concept of variable geometry. Therefore what is needed is a better match between governance issues and relevant stakeholder. Therefore, the multi-stakeholder model based on the concept of variable geometry, is the right response to the increasingly complex global governance process. It can ensure both the preservation of the main features of the current multistakeholder model and at the same time its evolutionary change.
• This approach is also fully consistent with the recommendations of the high level panel on global Internet cooperation and global governance mechanism through the partnership formed between the ICANN and the WEF.

Estimation of the overall number of participants present at the workshop


Estimation of the overall number of women present at the workshop

about half of the participants were women

Extent to that the workshop discuss gender equality and/or women’s empowerment

it was not seen as related to the workshop’s theme and was not raised

A brief summary of the discussions in case that the workshop addressed issues related to gender equality and/or women’s empowerment

No information provided

Reported by

Lorenzo Pupillo