The Power of Global Dialogue on Internet Governance

Last week, 2500 people gathered in João Pessoa, Brazil to participate in the 10th annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF), for an open discourse on a wide-range of current Internet-related issues. Participants represented a broad range of stakeholders, including governments, businesses, civil society, technical community and academia. They reflected diversity both across age groups and regions of the world.

Building on last year’s IGF, in which we called upon the community to focus on how to better “connect conversations,” this year’s Forum expanded on this idea by spotlighting best practices and showcasing them to the diverse group of stakeholders that attended IGF Brazil. Leading up to this year’s Forum, stakeholders made a concerted effort to connect with national and regional IGFs occurring throughout the year to compile collections of policy options aimed at helping to bring the next billion people online. We were also pleased to consult with stakeholders following the launch of our new diplomatic effort, "Global Connect," which seeks to bring 1.5 billion people who lack Internet access online by 2020, and to hear about the broad interest in the initiative. These types of efforts provided valuable insight and resources for those in the global community looking for solutions in their own circumstances. 

Three notable elements stood out from this year’s IGF from our perspective. First, the timing of IGF Brazil was particularly important because it occurred one month before the international community will gather at the United Nations (UN) in New York for a High-Level Meeting on internet-issues this December. This meeting will culminate the 10-year review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which created the IGF. Part of the discussion during the WSIS+10 Review will be whether or not to renew the IGF mandate.

We were delighted that the Ambassadors to the UN from Latvia and UAE -- who are facilitating the WSIS+10 Review -- came to the IGF to hear the multi-stakeholder discussion on WSIS+10 to help inform their deliberations. We were also encouraged by stakeholders sharing their overwhelming support for both the renewal of the IGF mandate and the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance with these representatives. As the conversation moves back to New York, we hope participants will take their experience in Brazil to leverage this momentum, to ensure that the WSIS Review can build on what has been working, and to affirm our commitment to a fully inclusive, people-centered, and development-oriented Information Society.

The second notable element of this year’s IGF was the tangible and active participation by young people. This was achieved, in part, through dedicated youth programs meant to increase their engagement. We were inspired by these young leaders’ passionate discussion of the issues and the broad perspectives that they brought to the discussions. We hope the young people at the IGF were able to glean knowledge from the various experts, including one of the “fathers of the Internet.” At the same time, it was clear we have much to learn from our young people, who are the future of the Internet after all.

The third important element was the power and depth of the multi-stakeholder dialogue itself. The level of discussion ranged from Internet access to human rights, from network neutrality to trade agreements, and from cybersecurity to personal privacy. The discussion around these and a multitude of other difficult issues was extremely mature and substantive. Diverse perspectives came forth at every turn, enriching the debate, and fostering more effective solutions to the challenges we face. It is clear that the discussions at the IGF do matter greatly in other forums. People from around the world and across sectors came together in Brazil to advocate, build relationships, and share knowledge and expertise. They are now back in their own communities, where they can use those tools to promote progress.  This is the bottom up approach that will move us forward.

Going forward, the Internet community needs to continue to “connect conversations.” We need to include more people from all stakeholder groups from more countries in these conversations. We also need to continue to capture the conversations and share them broadly as an accessible and valuable resource for the global community.

The U.S. government is no exception. We go to the IGF to engage in the discussion, to hear from global stakeholders, and to incorporate those views in our work on Internet policy issues around the world. Each year, we are struck by the substantive dialogue and passionate debate found at the IGF. The U.S. government delegation’s experience in Brazil further affirmed our belief that this is the premier multi-stakeholder venue for international dialogue on Internet-related issues and the dialogue it promotes remains important to the future of the global and open Internet.

About the Authors: Christopher Painter serves as the U.S. Department of State's Coordinator for Cyber Issues and Daniel Sepulveda is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

For More Information:

  • To learn more about the U.S. Department of State’s cyber policy efforts, please follow us on Twitter @State_Cyber or on Facebook.
  • Read the U.S. government’s submission to the WSIS+10 High Level Meeting.
  • Follow the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs on Twitter at @EconEngage and on Facebook to learn more about the U.S. Department of State’s efforts on economic matters, including communications and information policy issues.
Panel at the 10th annual Internet Governance Forum in João Pessoa, Brazil [Photo Courtesy of Sam Dickinson].
November 24, 2015


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