No Consensus at NetMundial

The two day NetMundial conference held on April 23-24 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to decide the future of internet governance was attended by over 600 scholars including representatives of 12 nations: Argentina, Brazil, France, Ghana, Germany, India, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, and the U.S. The concluding statement was broadly supported by most participants, with India as one of the few dissenting voices, along with Cuba and Russia.

India wanted “the Internet of today to become the Equinet of tomorrow”. The country has long been critical of the current Internet governance system. Instead, India believes it is the sovereign right of governments to regulate and manage the Internet. It is also opposed to the dominance of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a not-for-profit organization that assigns domain names. ICANN was previously overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce (though the Department announced in April that they were giving up their role), which has been perceived to give the U.S. undue influence in the governance of the Internet.

India’s Approach

The view of Indian government is limited to the argument that currently, the U.S. has disproportionate control over the Internet. The U.S. has already expressed its intention to reduce its control over ICANN by 2015 and has proposed a multi-stakeholder model. Though this proposal enjoys broad support, India has argued instead for an inter-government model, like the United Nations.  India also supports a multilateral, international legislative authority to regulate ICANN.

The position of Indian government is expressed in a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA): “The structures that manage and regulate the core Internet resources need to be internationalized, and made representative and democratic. The governance of the Internet should also be sensitive to the cultures and national interests of all nations. The mechanism for Governance of the Internet should therefore be transparent and should address all related issues. The Internet must be owned by the global community for mutual benefit and be rendered impervious to possible manipulation or misuse by any particular stake holder whether State or non-State.”

India maintains that the governance of the Internet involves a range of issues including technical, legal, public policy, equitable access, privacy and security of the infrastructure and information. Given that the core infrastructure of the Internet is not protected by any international legal regime, it is important to shape a globally acceptable legal regime to maintain the openness, security and international trust in the Internet.

The key points of contention on internet governance, especially with regard to India, range from issues of Internet surveillance to maintaining net neutrality and fixing the liability of intermediaries. India is also opposed to the proposed continuation of an un-fragmented model of the Internet. This model does not allow countries to demand that servers for regional traffic be located within the country. In the past, India has suggested a Committee of Internet Related Policies (CIRP), with representation from 50 nations, to govern the Internet. Countries seeking a multilateral approach are dubious about this model, which raises concerns about the possibility of cyber-espionage, especially vis-à-vis the United States.

India Divided

Despite the official position stated by the Ministry of External Affairs, India is also divided internally on the issue of Internet governance. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MC&IT), unlike the MEA, accepts the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance. The outcome of this internal disagreement will be crucial, given that India has over 210 million Internet users and ranks third after US and China with regards to Internet usage. India is expected to surpass the US within a few years in number of Internet users.

Unfinished Agenda

The NetMundial conference was an open and participatory process involving thousands of representatives from governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical community and academia from around the world. It received more than 180 contributions from stakeholders. The conference discussed the Internet governance principles and a roadmap for the future evolution of the Internet Governance Ecosystem. However, it failed to reach a consensus around issues related to its jurisdiction; benchmarking systems and related indicators regarding the application of Internet governance principles and the concepts of an Open Internet and individual rights to freedom of expression and information.

Vinay Kwatra, Joint Secretary at the MEA and India’s representative at NetMundial, said that India is open to holding regular dialogues on these issues with relevant international partners. The forum wants to continue its discussion as to how to enable freedom of expression, competition, consumer choice, meaningful transparency and appropriate network management.