The United Nations, under a mandate established in 2005 during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), launched a dialogue on Internet governance. WSIS is a dynamic effort to develop a global information society built upon the assets of the Internet. While not empowered to exact policy changes, WSIS hopes to foster a positive future through global discussion and the publication and promotion of successful Internet initiatives. The Internet Governance Forums are one element of the WSIS effort. They are being held annually for five years to explore global policy issues related to the management/deployment of critical Internet resources, ensuring access, safety, security, openness and diversity. The Forums are fostering dialogues that could lead to a series of recommendations to WSIS and the United Nations on best practices related to global Internet policy-building. This study surveyed participants at the second Internet Governance Forum in November 2007 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on attitudes about current and likely policy initiatives and their potential to aid in meeting WSIS objectives.
Responses were gathered from a select sample of highly engaged Internet stakeholders – 206 IGF attendees (roughly 15 percent of Forum participants) representing more than 60 countries. The data is valuable in two ways: First, as a global and systematic reading on the views of active participants in these forums that might eventually shape WSIS policy. Second, as an informed look at best practices for the future of policy-making, as participants in these Forums know a great deal about the Internet and are wrestling with the issues it raises, and they are most likely to provide valuable expert input in the same manner that a survey of Washington lobbyists could provide useful indications of the future of US policies.
The findings here should not be taken as a representative cross-section of opinions of those interested in the Forums or, indeed, in the future of the Internet. The IGF attendees most motivated to invest the 20 to 30 minutes of their time that was required to complete this survey were most likely to be stakeholders with vested interests in the issues faced by their individual countries or unique constituencies and rooted in the cultures they represent. Although the study sample was diverse and engaged with the issues addressed, it should not be construed as encompassing the views of all Forum participants. At the same time, while not to be extrapolated to a wider audience, this select, convenience sample of respondents does provide insights that are likely to appear in more-general public discussions as time passes and, in truth, the Internet itself is much like the respondents to this study – widely diverse.
The online survey, made available in English, Spanish and French, captured opinions about the key areas being addressed by the Forum, as well as the respondents’ general thoughts on the foundational concepts that might be applied to Internet governance.KEY INTERNET GOVERNANCE ISSUES
Sixty percent (60%) of survey participants said they believe the Internet has successfully connected the world. However, globally, just one in five persons has Internet access. It is not surprising, then, that respondents to this survey also said access is the single most important issue being addressed by the Internet Governance Forum (38%).
Respondents indicated other top-ranking Internet governance concerns:
• Equitable control of critical Internet resources (infrastructure), an issue closely related to access, was described as most important by 17%.
• Internet security was seen as the key issue by 14% of respondents.
• Eight percent (8%) said the most important issue is Internet openness and 3% said it is diversity of Internet content, appeal and design.
• One in five said the most critical Internet issue today is a combination of all of the above.
The first Internet Governance Forums were designed to concentrate on five key areas of policy concern: Access, Diversity, Critical Internet Resources, Openness and Security. These categories were each addressed with a question set in the IGF 2007 survey. Following is a brief outline of results.ACCESS:
DIGITAL INCLUSION AND CLOSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
Most respondents (51%) agreed that a global solution to Internet access is achievable, and that cost is the primary barrier (78%). Most respondents indicated that commercial providers should solve this problem with a low-cost access solution for the poor. Forty-seven percent (47%) said marketplace competition, rather than regulation is the right means to the end of the access problem.
Without widespread Internet access 87% said their countries will have little future economic success. Most (60%) said they believe global Internet access improves the economy – through the creation of more and better jobs – and they agreed it improves healthcare (74%).
Respondents were asked to express their confidence in current initiatives aimed at access, and most supported diffusion through school-based and public-access programs. The response of participants when asked for the one best method to increase access:
• Internet access and instruction in public schools (49%).
• Public Internet kiosks, hot spots, in public spaces (38%).
• Connectivity through community-access mobile phones (14%).
• Public-private partnerships like the One Laptop Per Child program (12%).
Half of respondents agreed the UN should work with commercial providers to establish a global fund for a universal basic level of Internet access for everyone.
Most respondents (51%) were hopeful that there is a way to provide a global solution to ensure Internet access to those who desire it, and most (58%) agreed with an assertion that the UN should coordinate a coalition of corporate, government, technology industry, and civil-society stakeholders to achieve the goal of a basic connection for everyone. In addition, 44% agreed with this statement: “Leadership from my country is the only means to ensure all of the people in my country have Internet access.”
Some 77% of IGF survey participants backed an assertion that only open and neutral Internet access can close the digital divide.
In open-ended comments, respondents expressed concerns that the last stages of Internet deployment might be left to commercial broadband monopolies, leaving lesser-developed countries at a disadvantage. They also argued that democracy will only thrive in countries with Internet access and they said spam may harm the Internet’s global promise.CRITICAL INTERNET RESOURCES:
CONTROL OF KEY ARCHITECTURE AND POLICY
Respondents were asked a series of questions about where power over the Internet currently resides. There was no consensus about who runs things on the Internet.
• 47% agreed with the statement “The Internet has no center of gravity – no one concentrated location of central control.”
• 36% – about a third – said the Internet does have a concentrated center of power. Of these respondents, 65% said the center of the Internet’s influence or concentrated power is in the United States, and 22% of those who said there is a power center cited the countries of the Northern Hemisphere. A few respondents said IT companies are the center, and 4% indicated users who create content are the “center of gravity” for the Internet.
• 17% of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement.
The technical reality is that control over decisions about the architecture and operation of the global Internet is dispersed throughout a number of global organizations. One of the most powerful is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which assigns domain names and Internet Protocol addresses and is in charge of root-server system management. ICANN has provided a critical service to the establishment of a global Internet, however as the Internet has matured the organization’s effectiveness has been questioned. Nearly half of stakeholders (45%) agreed with the statement that the organization as it is structured today “is not effective and it should be placed in a more neutral, global control structure.”
The IGF survey respondents generally agreed that established institutions, especially governments and corporations, are active participants in today’s management of critical Internet resources and, as a result, they influence access to the Internet. Respondents generally supported ideas allowing several representative stakeholder segments of society to make Internet policies. For instance, 77% agreed with the observation that the Internet is a transborder resource and it should be governed globally. They were particularly insistent that significant contributions to governance of the Internet’s critical resources should come from the outer edges, including representatives of civil society. In fact, most respondents (69%) favored fewer official policies as a way to keep the Internet innovative and dynamic.
When considering how to establish critical Internet resources in their countries, about one-third of respondents favored support for marketplace solutions, such as encouraging competition. About one-third said individual countries should provide funding to offer access to those who can’t afford it. About one-fourth favored commercial broadband companies establishing a global fund for a level of universal service – a fund much like the one established by telephone and cable companies in the United States.DIVERSITY:
ALLOWING ALL TO PARTICIPATE EQUALLY
Respondents supported the notion that there should be cultural diversity on the Internet. The majority (77%) said the representation of diverse languages on the Internet should be given global priority, however respondents were split on whether the Internet currently enhances or diminishes their local culture – a result tied to whether their language is present online. Forty-two percent (42%) said the Internet does foster local culture, while 32% said it does not. Fifty percent (50%) said there should be global policies aimed at fostering multicultural content.
Strong support was also expressed for global policies that establish protocols for disabled users to access the Internet – 47% said that should be a priority.
A majority supported the establishment of global policies to ensure neutral and equitable access to the Internet for all people (52%).
Less support was indicated for global policies related to protecting the free flow of user-generated content (42%) or global provisions that ensure Internet content is accurate (28%). About a third of respondents do not believe that accuracy of Internet content is an Internet governance issue.OPENNESS:
PROTECTING CIVIL LIBERTIES IN CYBERSPACE
Respondents indicated strong support for the establishment of a global Internet users’ Bill of Rights. Some 66% agreed with the statement: “A global Internet users’ Bill of Rights should be adopted.” While many respondents also indicated strong support for freedom of information on the Internet (76%), many expressed doubts that a global policy on Internet content controls can be reached (49%). Three-quarters of survey participants agreed that such a policy is needed to ensure freedom of expression on the Internet; 62% said they believe content controls weaken the Internet.
When asked if their country should retain the right to approve content disseminated to its people via the Internet, about one in four of the respondents (28%) agreed while 59% disagreed. Even more disagreed (63%) that a commercial Internet service provider should have that right.
Nearly half of respondents indicated they believe content regulations cannot be successfully leveraged due to the open nature of the online realm. They voted 47% (agree) to 34% (disagree) on the following assertion: “Policies that regulate content on the Internet are not enforceable because of the borderless nature of the Internet.”
In open-ended comments, respondents expressed concerns about achieving the correct balance between civil liberties and a secure Internet. Most see balancing free expression with privacy rights and a secure Internet as the most important future concern in this area of Internet governance. Many fear government censorship will limit free expression. For example, one respondent wrote, “While difficult to achieve, we can have an open Internet and still prohibit criminal activity like child pornography and cyberterrorism.” Another respondent wrote, “Above all, political speech on the Internet should be protected globally.”SECURITY:
ASSURING SAFETY, TRUST AND A RELIABLE, SCALING NETWORK
Respondents were asked about Internet and global policymaking related to cybercrime. Most respondents (70%) said the Internet’s architecture and the protection of infrastructure should primarily be the responsibility of local governments. Low support was expressed for the establishment of a global Internet police force tasked with protecting the Internet’s infrastructure. Just 38% backed the idea. However, there was strong support for a global police force tasked to fight cybercrime – 56% of respondents supported this idea. This finding is not surprising considering the strong support for global protocols for conducting business over the Internet – fully 81% of respondents backed this notion. Half of stakeholders said individual users’ rights to privacy outweigh the need for security, while about a third (35%) said security outweighs privacy.
Global cooperation is necessary to find a balance between the protection of civil liberties and the maintenance of a secure, trusted Internet.GOING FORWARD:
ADDRESSING GOVERNANCE IN THE FUTURE
The survey data suggest that respondents believe that global policies are desirable and achievable in the Internet governance arena. Most respondents (52%) said the Internet is governable – even thought it is a transborder phenomenon without a primary locus of control. They supported multiple measures for achieving broad user access to the Internet that center around policies at the local and global level. They see value in marketplace approaches to bringing Internet access to those who are still unconnected. They also believe that achieving access is possible through global policies and that this is the key area for policymaking.
Strong support for improving Internet access through schools and education was expressed among stakeholders. The promise of mobile devices to bring the Internet to the unconnected received positive support.
Significant support was also expressed for establishing global protocols to ensure the safe, secure conduct of business over the Internet. This finding suggests that the commercial applications of the Internet are a strong basis for building consensus among global stakeholders on issues of policy. These policies are likely to find a strong level of support, whereas policies related to regulating Internet content will find the least consensus.
If the opinions of these respondents are any indicator, global policymakers will likely find strong debate and little agreement on how to strike a balance between maintaining a safe and secure Internet and protecting users’ civil liberties. The answers here suggest that some tensions might be eased by adopting a global Internet Bill of Rights; this concept had strong support – more than 66% of respondents supported the concept, and only 6% disagreed, suggesting this is an opportunity for IGF. A Bill of Rights could contain statements addressing areas where Internet governance stakeholders are in agreement, such as: the Internet should be accessible to all people of the world, available in their native language and at an affordable cost.
There was an even split of respondents when they were asked whether they see marketplace demand or government-mandated policy as the best likely shaper of the Internet’s future.
The multistakeholder model is the policy-setting configuration most survey respondents say they support. This evolutionary, edges-in format is employed by IGF, ICANN, the Internet Society and other organizations that are building the policies and structures underpinning the Internet by combining input from representatives from the realms of business, government, technology and civil society.
While most surveyed stakeholders say a system is most innovative and dynamic if it remains as unregulated as possible (70%), a third say the Internet will not prosper without additional global policies. Unfortunately, the majority also believes public policy will always remain a step behind due to accelerating technological development. These are indicators supporting the idea that a governance format different from those applied to previous communications technologies such as broadcast television or the telephone is necessary to best shape future Internet policy.
These findings demonstrate that it is more important now than ever before for engaged stakeholders to work to anticipate future needs and concerns in order to achieve positive outcomes as they scale the Internet upward to meet the needs of billions more users while retaining an open, safe environment for innovation, discourse, sharing and connection.