5.5. The need for further reform

The purpose of this chapter has been to return focus to the implementation of Internet governance in practice, following the abstraction of the preceding two chapters. The chapter began by surveying the recent processes of reform to the existing regime of Internet governance outlined in Chapter 2. It was seen that the reforms that began in earnest at WSIS, partially implementing the recommendations of the WGIG report, led both to the establishment of the IGF for a term of at least five years, and to the promise of a longer term model of enhanced multi-stakeholder cooperation in policy development.

But it was also clear that the Tunis Agenda’s mandate for each of these initiatives has yet to be fulfilled. In fact, agreement has been lacking even as to whether and how it should be fulfilled, with the role of the IGF, its structure, and its processes remaining the subject of contention throughout the entire process. Interestingly, the division between stakeholder groups was less significant in this regard than that between the cross-cutting camps of Forum “hawks” and “doves.” Susan Crawford of ICANN was not understating the point when she described the IGF as “highly political.”[1]

The purpose of the next chapter is to make a more detailed assessment of the success of the IGF and to propose whatever reforms are required to enable it to fulfil not only its express mandate in the Tunis Agenda, but also—if the political will were to exist for it to do so—a broader mandate more consistent with the recommendations of the WGIG report, that acknowledges the legitimate role of non-state actors in the development of public policy as transnational law.

This assessment of how closely the IGF approximates a legitimate and effective multi-stakeholder Internet governance network will be conducted by two parallel methods: firstly by reference to best practices of other organisations that have been observed throughout this thesis, and secondly by applying the theoretical principles that were developed principally in chapters 3 and 4.

Foreshadowing this approach, the preceding section of this chapter began to compare the IGF against a number of other proposals for reform, mostly from outside the WSIS process, to determine what they could add to the background of theory developed over the preceding chapters that will be used in assessing the IGF.

Consolidating the findings of Chapter 4, it was found that proposals that would require states to accommodate the decentralised governance of an anarchistic network of Internet stakeholders carry no assurance of multi-stakeholder participation or democratic accountability unless conducted within a more formal structure. On the hierarchical account, this is where the need for oversight and coordination comes in, which is the essence of the “process towards enhanced cooperation”; however, the need to ensure freedom of exit from the network limits the legitimate use of governmental or intergovernmental power in any such structure.[2]

Also in accord with previous findings, little promise was found in democratic models of governance that sought to implement a system of representative elections, unless they also incorporated a deliberative process, which would make them a special case of the consensual model. But even such consensual networks presented a difficult question: whether they should be anchored to the international system through a treaty of some kind, or exist as autonomous transnational legal institutions.

In the former option lay the danger that the network would become beholden to government, but the latter carried the perhaps even more acute risk that states would refuse to participate in the network, significantly curtailing its legitimacy and effectiveness. On balance, it would be perverse to refuse to countenance a thin link between any consensual network of Internet governance and the existing international system, at least until the network builds up sufficient social capital across all stakeholder groups to break free and become fully autonomous.

Such a network does not exist in any of the alternative models of Internet governance reform that were examined in this chapter, but it does describe the IGF of the Tunis Agenda quite well. It describes the IGF as it actually exists somewhat less well; however the required theoretical and factual background is now in place to enable us to identify the deficiencies of the IGF as it stands, and to make the necessary recommendations for its reform.

Notes

[1]

Noyes, Andrew, Biggest Threat to Internet Could Be a Massive Virtual Blackout (2007)

[2]

Though it may well not limit its application in practice: see Section 4.3.5.3.