[discuss] APC Remarks on the occasion of the NMI Scoping Meeting, 28 August 2014

Anriette Esterhuysen anriette at apc.org
Thu Aug 28 11:19:32 UTC 2014

*Remarks from the Association for Progressive Communications on the
NETmundial Initiative (NMI) Initial Scoping Meeting to be held in Geneva
on 28 August 2014*

By the time most members of civil society active in Internet governance
heard of the NETmundial Initiative (or Alliance as it as originally
termed) it was already a fait accompli. A few carefully selected civil
society invitees were given a choice to get on board, or miss their
chance to participate in internet governance's next 'great event'. A
further few were invited to the initial scoping meeting.^^1

APC was one of the organizations that received an invitation but as we
are not attending the meeting we are sharing these remarks.

The NMI appropriates the name of NETMundial, the multistakeholder event
held in Brazil earlier this year. Yet there are few resemblances between
the NMI and NETMundial outside of the name. The initiative was conceived
of in a top down manner, and efforts to implement it so far – the
scoping meeting- have reflected this approach. It has been neither
inclusive nor transparent. It is of great concern to APC that
information about the event was only released to the public by the
organisers after it had been leaked. This is not an appropriate profile
for any event that purports to operate in the spirit of the NETMundial
principles. And it does not bode well for its future success as a
multistakeholder initiative. It is hard to grasp how an initiative that
starts off in this manner can become a democratic, transparent and
participatory venue for the global community serving human rights and
the public good.

Started, it appears, by the Chief Executive of ICANN, and facilitated
and hosted by World Economic Forum (WEF), the NMI appears to have good
intentions, namely to (quoting from the brief): 1) “Facilitate a
distributed environment of effective global cooperation among
stakeholders through innovative and legitimate mechanisms to tackle
current and future Internet issues; 2) Inform and equip capacity
development initiatives to ensure global participation in Internet
cooperation, especially from under-represented regions; and 3) Work to
build trust in the Internet and its governance ecosystem.” ^^2

But is the WEF an appropriate forum for these processes? The WEF has
close links to business, and is mostly financed by bigbusiness. It has
expertise in facilitating engagement between business and governments,
and sometimes also with civil society, and its interest in internet
governance should be seen as positive. But very few civil society
organisations, particularly from the developing world (or Global South)
would feel comfortable in WEF spaces. Many identify with the World
Social Forum, the alternative forum which was established to challenge
approaches to globalization and development promoted at the WEF. Many
developing country governments also do not feel that they have equal
voice at theWEF.

Looking at the list of participants at the NMI Scoping Meeting it is
clear who is present, and who is not. By far the majority of
participants come from Europe and North America. Business representation
dramatically outweighs that of civil society.

WEF events are seen as grand events for the rich and powerful that have
very little, if anything, to do with civil society and the daily lives
and struggles of the general population This discomfort leads to
questions and concerns:


    There is a general lack of diversity among the civil society
    participants in most WEF events in general, and in this event – the
    NMI Scoping Meeting - specifically. What will be done to remedy this
    situation as the process continues?


    Does WEF have the capacity to establish something sustained,
    inclusive and bottom up that can gradually lead the way in building
    the legitimacy and inclusiveness needed to operationalise the
    NETmundial outcomes at global, regional, and national levels?


    What experience does WEF have at bridging the gap between those who
    hold power and influence, and a civil society that has neither power
    nor, frequently, influence?


    Most the pressing internet governance challenges of the moment
    involve containing actions by governments and businesses to fragment
    the internet (intentionally or unintentionally). For example,
    insufficient data protection, and new challenges to protecting
    user's rights, and business models which rely on data mining
    practices which put these rights at risk? While business and
    governments need to be part of these solutions, is a forum dominated
    by them (the case for the WEF and thus far for the NMI) likely to
    come up with solutions that challenges their interests?


    How can WEF help to integrate what the NETmundial stands for (public
    interested, multistakeholder, democratic, and human rights oriented
    internet governance) into the day to day running of the internet in
    ways that will be felt by existing and future users?


    What is the NMI relationship to the IGF? Will it focus on
    strengthening it? Or will it attempt to be complimentary? How can it
    guarantee that it will not disrupt the work of thousands that has
    gone into building the IGF over the last decade?


    Will the NMI stand for human rights and make them a priority in
    internet governance?


    How will those developing country governments that currently feel
    excluded and disaffected with multistakeholder internet governance
    processes (and this includes both the NETmundial and the IGF) be
    included and how will they be challenged to change their behaviours
    with regard to, particularly, civil society participation in
    national internet policy processes?


    Will it approach capacity building as a process needed by the
    developing world only? Will it look beyond attributing the primary
    reason for the lack of support for multistakeholder processes among
    developing country governments to lack of capacity and knowledge? Or
    will it use capacity building is often used as a bandaid, with rich
    countries proposing resources/aid for multistakeholder processes as
    means of securing political support at international processes? If
    capacity, and its building, is to be defined by the north for the
    south it will only reinforce existing inequalities in power and will
    fail to strengthen multistakeholder processes at either national or
    global levels.

Having pointed to our concerns, we also want to point to our wishes.
Since this meeting is happening, we wish it the greatest success. We
strongly support its goal of building support for a strong IGF. We would
be willing to assist the WEF during the next six months in trying to
make this initiative a genuinely multistakeholder effort that pays heed
to democratic and bottom-up processes with outreach and accountability
to the global stakeholder community. APC also believes that there is
value in expanding the conversation to include people who have
heretofore been absent from the discussion; we realize that cooperation
with the WEF is one way to build awareness of critical issues and
processes among those actors they have an established relationship with.
Broadening the range of business voices involved in internet governance
is needed. But dominance of business voices in the internet governance
ecosystem is not only not needed, it will destroy any chance that this
distributed, decentralised system has of being regarded as legitimate
and focused on the public interest.

APC insists that greater transparency and inclusiveness going forward is
vital. WEF has committed to a six month period of consultations
regarding whether and how to establish a dedicated organizational
structure to support the NMI going forward, whether or not connected to
the Forum.^^3 <#sdfootnote3sym> The next six months will determine the
degree to which this effort can reach the global community in all of its
diversity in a manner that is worthy of the brand NETMundial.

28 August 2014

1 <#sdfootnote1anc>http://www.weforum.org/issues/global-internet-governance



anriette esterhuysen
executive director
association for progressive communications
po box 29755, melville, 2109, south africa
anriette at apc.org

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