UN General Assembly reaffirms value of multistakeholder process in Internet governance

This has been a great week for the Internet! On Wednesday, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the outcome document of the high-level meeting on the 10-year review of the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), reaffirming the value of the multistakeholder process in Internet governance and extending the Internet Governance Forum mandate for another 10 years.

The original WSIS – which took place in two phases, in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005 – developed an ambitious agenda to build “a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Over the past decade, we have seen tremendous progress toward this goal – including more than 2 billion additional people connected to the Internet, lowered prices and higher performance for different types of broadband connections, impact of the mobile phone and applications, and myriad advances in communications, business, education, healthcare delivery and entertainment. Cloud computing now makes available services and applications globally, democratizing access to information, knowledge and computing resources around the world. We can be confident that the coming decade will yield even more ICT innovations and benefits for our world.

Since June 2015, the Permanent Representatives to the UN of Latvia and the United Arab Emirates co-facilitated a multistakeholder consultation process to consider input from governments, business, civil society and academics on progress and challenges in WSIS implementation in the past decade, and work that remains to be done. The process resulted in a robust dialogue that ultimately led to a successful review and this week’s final document.

In September, the UN also adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change in the world by 2030. The Sustainable Development Goals and the vision of the Information Society are linked – as successfully addressing the goals will require the further development and application of ICTs – beginning with ensuring that everyone is able to connect and access relevant content. That’s why the U.S. State Department launched its Global Connect Initiative in September, and why we recently launched a new fund as part of our Affordable Access Initiative. The fund will nurture and support companies that are focused on bringing affordable Internet access to underserved markets and empowering local communities and peoples globally.

The importance of the Internet to our evolving society is unquestioned. But for some time there has been a debate on whether the current multistakeholder model in Internet governance should continue, or whether a UN-centered multilateral model would be preferable. The outcome document is unambiguous on this question. It reaffirms the critical importance of the multistakeholder model that has been at the heart of the substantive progress made in the vision of a people-centered Information Society. The importance of grounding the development agenda with full support for human rights is also reinforced. Furthermore, the Internet Governance Forum mandate is renewed for another 10 years in recognition of its value as a global platform for multistakeholder collaboration.

We congratulate all those who participated in the consultation and negotiation process on achieving a successful conclusion to this review.

About the Author

Senior Director, Tech Policy