The Internet works not because of the government mandate or intergovernmental agreement – rather it works because its governance is open, inclusive, collaborative and transparent. It allows for innovation without permission and encourages the free flow of ideas and the exchange of information across borders; it spurs economic growth and thus contributes to social and economic development.
"Internet Governance" is a broad term used in many different contexts, applying to activities as diverse as coordination of technical standards, operation of critical infrastructure, development, regulation, and legislation, among others. Internet governance is not restricted to the activities of governments. Many different types of stakeholders have a role in defining and carrying out Internet governance activities and the Internet Society has always been an active leader in such discussions.
In 2003, global attention turned to the notion of Internet governance with the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005. The Internet Society has been fully engaged in the Internet Governance debate since the very beginning, as a firm advocate of the open Internet model, based on bottom-up and collaborative policy and standards development processes, involving all stakeholders.
In Geneva, WSIS laid down the principles for the information society, including Internet governance:
The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations.
To make progress on Internet governance matters before Tunis, representatives of the various stakeholders were brought together in the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). This multi-stakeholder experiment comprised a balance of government, business, Civil Society, and technical community representatives who worked to coalesce divergent views on IG. The WGIG helped validate the importance of multi-stakeholder inputs by drafting a report that contributed substantially to the final texts of the WSIS and, perhaps as importantly, to educating all participants as to the issues and players involved in Internet governance.
In Tunis, Heads of State agreed on a definition of Internet Governance:
A working definition of Internet governance is the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.
This was a significant result, as it was the first time a World Summit held under UN auspices recognized the need for including all stakeholders into Internet governance arrangements.
The “Tunis agenda” also called for a “process towards enhanced cooperation”, to be started by the UN Secretary-General. There are diverging views regarding what it the exact meaning of “enhanced cooperation”, but many actors in the Internet ecosystem consider that this term describes the ongoing cooperation that is happening between and within existing organizations. The Internet Society provided performance reports, at the request of the Secretary-General, and issued various statements on this issue.
WSIS also conceived the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as a platform for multistakeholder policy dialogue on Internet governance. The first IGF meeting took place in 2006 and an initial mandate of five years. IGF meetings address a broad range of important issues related to Internet governance. The Internet Society participated actively in all IGF meetings and strongly supports the IGF as a meaningful meeting space. The Internet Society is also an active member of the IGF’s Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG). The role of the MAG is to advise the UN Secretary General on the program and schedule of the IGF. MAG meetings occur three times per annum and are followed by an open consultation.
In 2010, the UN General Assembly renewed the IGF mandate for another five years. The United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC) also adopted a consensus resolution to allow the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) to create a working group on the Internet governance with the objective to recommend improvements to the IGF, in line with the original mandate conceived in the Tunis Agenda. The Internet Society participated in this CSTD working group on improvements to the IGF, collaborating with representatives of the Internet academic and technical communities.