06 February 2014

Last week, I attended the State of the Net conference  in Washington. My main goal was to gain insights for ‘The Digital World in 2030: What Place for Europe?’ report which I am co-authoring for the European Internet Foundation. 

The event was held in the backdrop of a few important developments i.e. The NSA revelations, Bitcoin, the Net Neutrality rulings in the USA, the Multi-sakeholder model (evolution of) in light of the Brazil meeting, discussion on broadband speeds and charging models etc. 

Sessions I attended

Apart from the keynotes and the morning session, the sessions I attended were:

  • Multi-stakeholder model
  • Will the Brazilian Reboot Turn the Internet Into a BRIC? 
  • What's the Proper Federal Framework to Promote Internet Communications?
  • Debating Broadband Speeds in America: What Do the Numbers Say and Why Do They Matter? (attended in parallel with multi-stakeholder model)

This blog post provides my personal perspective (with a trans-atlantic focus) on the sessions I attended –notably the Multi-stakeholder model. 

Multi-stakeholder model

The U.S. advocates "the multi-stakeholder model" (MSM) as the basis for global Internet governance. Furthermore, questions have been raised about how well this model works for less developed countries, non-English speaking cultures and countries with weak or barely existent civil society institutions. Governments still have trouble participating in open, bottom-up policymaking.  Many fear that governments will use their superior resources or behind-the-scenes politics to unbalance or warp the MSM.


The Internet, as it currently stands, is governed by the multi stakeholder model. 

The Internet is different from any other network and traditional governance models do not apply to the Internet. In particular, the Internet spans national boundaries, which means that certain aspects of the Internet are not regulated by national governments – but rather they are governed by the multi-stakeholder model.  The multi-stakeholder model is inclusive and takes a ‘bottom up’ approach. 

The 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) recognize the following categories of stakeholders : States/governments, Private sector/commercial companies, Civil society, Intergovernmental organizations, International organizations, meaning non-commercial, non-civil society, private sector organizations, Academic community, Technical community.

In contrast, organizations favouring the inter-govermental model of Internet Governance take a ‘top down approach’. They seek to extend and empower laws from existing national governments (including copyright, trademark etc) and to harmonize national laws that relate to new technologies (including the Internet).

This can happen through a ‘soft law’ principle – ex declarations and resolutions – or through international laws enacted in treaties. The multi-stakeholder model has worked well in terms of providing access to information, fostering innovation, creating new business models etc. On the other hand, it could be argued that there are some limitations – ex security, copyright protection, Spam etc. The intergovernmental model also includes countries and organizations that wanted to restrict Internet freedom.  

These models are not static and evolve – for example as emerging economies play a stronger role in Internet governance.

Multistakeholderism is a framework and means of engagement, it is not a means of legitimization. When it comes to Internet Governance, ISOC and ICANN broadly represent the multi stakeholder (and thus implement) the model.  

Historically, ISOC and ICANN have been close to the U.S government and also draw support from countries in Western Europe, technical communities and the wider stake holder community. 

In contrast, the ITU represents a telecommunications governance regime that is centered on nation-states and is the foremost advocate of the Inter-govermental model. The ITU draws its strongest support from national governments especially from the emerging economies (China, the Arab states, Russia, Brazil and others) 

The US government continues to have at least nominal control over the process through its contracts with the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA) and also through its closeness with ISOC and ICANN

Also,  Europe and the USA are aligned on key principles. For the Internet – these include an Open, free, unified, un-fragmented network based on the rule law, fostering human rights and democratic values. The principles also include self regulation (light regulation), catalyst for innovation and inclusiveness for stakeholders. 

My view - The future of the multi-stakeholder model

Based on the observations my analysis is:

The future of the multi-stakeholder model is at threat because the NSA revelations could have paved the way for those who want to move away from the multi stakeholder model to an intergovernmental model. 

Thus, we are indeed at a transition point.

There is no doubt that under the stewardship of the USA and facilitated by organizations like ICANN – the Internet has been a catalyst for massive innovation touching the lives of almost everyone on the planet. 

But will this continue going forward?

The inter-governmental model of ‘one nation – one vote’ leaves no room for other stake holders – which are indeed represented in the multi-stake holder model. We see also that organizations like ICANN are taking a different approach with the Brazil meeting.  

In that sense, conferences like SOTN play a key role in bringing together many stakeholders – especially from the EU and USA – which will hopefully strengthen the multi-stakeholder model .

Will the Brazilian Reboot Turn the Internet Into a BRIC? 

The NSA revelations have roiled the foundations of the international Internet governance framework. In the wake of the controversy, ICANN and the Brazilian government have formed an alliance to hold a summit conference in April. The goal of the meeting is to produce global agreement on basic Internet principles, an institutional framework for multi-stakeholder Internet governance, and a roadmap to evolve and globalize current institutions. The ICANN-Brazil alliance raises eyebrows. 

On the other hand, supporters of the initiative contend that the alliance may pave the way for breakthroughs that could stabilize and give greater legitimacy to the current system.

Debating Broadband Speeds in America: What Do the Numbers Say and Why Do They Matter? 

The relative standing of high-speed communications networks in the United States is a subject of periodic debate. Various organizations rank countries' network speeds, and some find America's standing wanting. The debate typically unfolds from this point with some disputing the metrics used to develop rankings, others saying international comparisons really are not "apples to apples" across countries, while others say America's ranking is call for alarm and policy intervention. This panel will examine what the speed numbers what they mean and how, if at all, policymakers should respond to them. The panel will also explore what other metrics policymakers and consumers need to inform their decisions. If a transparent broadband marketplace is to help in the development of a sensible policy framework, what needs to be done so that information about networks and service attributes are clear and meaningful to all stakeholders?

This session was based on Broadband speeds in America but also had insights for Europe since similar issues also apply here

Rankings stir debates: but some of the focus on the rankings distracts policymakers from focusing on some more important issues in this space 

Comparing apples to oranges: In terms of services. Comparing a French ISP that has 12 TV channels to an ISP with 300, including ESPN, it’s not an apples to apples comparison.

My personal observations: 

There are two investment models which influence the rollout of broadband. The state subsidy model (Korea, Japan are biggest examples) vs. private investments (USA where broadband providers have committed to a trillion dollars in private investments). Europe lies somewhere in the middle and varies depending on the country. 


Tech policy has become mainstream:

As Tim Lordon said in the opening session – we now have two Hollywood movies based on ‘technology policy’ being produced over the last year. Tech policy has definitely become mainstream.  

The State of the Net conference is now the premier place to attend for Internet Governance and the discussion on the future of the Internet. This blog presents a limited personal perspective based on sessions I followed and with a trans-Atlantic perspective.  As Tim Lordon said in his opening remarks – the discussion has become mainstream. So, more dialogue and discussion especially in EU and USA is needed  to strengthen the multi-stakeholder model.


My tweets:

#SOTN14 @ietf is an example of true multi stakeholder but focus often goes to @ICANN

#SOTN14 Multistakeholder - resistant to nation states ... good definition

@SenRandPaul part of federalism is agree to disagree #SOTN14

First time i am hearing  to @SenRandPaul #SOTN14 .. making some interesting points

@SenJohnThune #sotn14 light touch, multi stakeholder regulation is the key to avoid digital balkanization of Internet. Agree!

@SenJohnThune #sotn14 Disruptive startups like uber dont fit tick all  boxes in existing regulation

@CommerceSec #sotn14 since 2007 half million new jobs created by apps cc @AppsAlliance

#sotn14 Peering and interconnect not same as net neutrality

#sotn14 we dont need trials to create ip networks technically (all ip) we need trials for values, measurements and metrics

#sotn14 press railroad telegraph and other networks have lessons for us - network compact - Tom Wheeler. How do we port those concepts

#sotn14 internet policy is becoming mainstream -Tim Lordon

Interesting tweets from others: 

Privacy and IP are the top issues for @Dropbox, says CEO @DrewHouston at #SOTN14

#SOTN14 @repgoodlatte discuss patent trolls. #Dropbox and Chipotle named in same patent suit. Long live the patent pending burrito!

When it costs lots of $$ to sue, relying just on contract to enforce individual privacy rights is basically no protection at all #SOTN14

Wheeler: Net Neutrality-Verizon wanted court to say the FCC had no jurisdiction over the Internet, but the court said "not so fast" #SOTN14

Wheeler: Peering - do not want old-style command&control regulation, but at the same time we want to make sure there are no abuses #SOTN14

Wheeler tells @gigastacy Netflix doesn't stream reliably at home. His wife: "You’re chairman of the FCC, why is this happening?" #SOTN14

@gigastacey asks an important question of @TomWheelerFCC: Is the @FCC going to get involved with peering? #SOTN14

by Ajit Jaokar



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