Governance of the Internet, By the People, For the People:

A Call for Civil Society Participation and Engagement

The Internet has become a crucial tool for Civil Society today. NGOs are Civil Society’s voice and vehicle for development, justice and sustainability, and are becoming increasingly dependent on the Internet to pursue their mission and maintain their sustainability.

Internet governance is where crucial decisions are made and policy is set, and it is being built on an emerging model of multi stakeholder engagement. Civil Society’s role in Internet governance is unique. Civil Society’s first key contribution to Internet governance is its role as the main advocate and defender of the Internet’s core values of freedom, stability, security, accessibility, and affordability. Civil Society’s second key contribution to Internet governance is representation. Internet governance today resembles a country where 1% of the population governs 99% of the population, and most don't even know that the 1% exists! Legitimate Internet governance depends on awareness and participation by all of its stakeholders. Civil society’s strength is its people, with community groups and NGOs as their organized voice. NGOs need to be the key educators, mobilizers, opinion builders and organizers of multi stakeholder based Internet governance. Civil Society and NGOs, as the sleeping giant of Internet stakeholders, need to expand their breadth and depth of engagement in Internet governance.

Civil Society and the Internet have become interdependent, and Internet governance needs Civil Society as a guardian of its key values. It is Civil Society’s voice and engagement that give Internet governance legitimacy. In turn, Civil Society depends on the same values within the Internet in order to fulfill its visions and Mission.

Civil Society’s future is at stake in Internet governance today. The Internet is changing in ways that will have a major impact on Civil Society and its NGOs. The immediate change will come from the decision of the US Government to hand over the oversight and accountability over the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS), the IANA Functions, to a yet unbuilt multi stakeholder process. The future of the Internet will depend on this new structure. NGOs are currently not sufficiently represented and engaged in Internet governance to either protect or to advance civil society stakeholder interests. Civil Society’s influence and role determining the future of the Internet depend on how effective it engages with ongoing Internet governance processes.

Civil Society is the Internet’s largest stakeholder group, it has the most to lose, and the most to contribute. The weaker NGO participation in Internet governance, the harder it is prevent Internet policy from being captured by interests opposed to the free and open goals of Civil Society. A weak policy role also weakens NGO sustainability, blunts NGO activities, and, in developing and emerging economies, weakens overall socio-economic development.

How can Civil Society and NGO's engage in the future of the Internet?

ICANN is the custodian of the Domain Names System (DNS). Ownership of a registered domain name gives NGOs an ownership stake in the Internet ecosystem. This is important for NGOs since free access to services from commercial social media sites leaves Civil Society organizations without a governance voice and exposed to changing commercial terms of use. Important steps for NGO voice and engagement involve joining ICANN’s NPOC, (the Not-For-Profit Operational Concerns Constituency) along with ICANN’s NCSG (Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group), and the ownership of a registered domain name. NPOC, was established to give voice to NGOs and Civil Society in ICANN’s multi stakeholder Internet governance process.

An NPOC Call for Greater Civil Society Participation and Engagement.

1. Let us know what you think!

In order to strengthen Civil Society engagement in Internet governance, NPOC is planning set of regional surveys designed to understand the Internet needs of Civil Society and NGOs, and the Internet realities they face. This is a critical initial step in designing activities, accountable to stakeholders, that both give voice to those concerns in Internet governance, and begin to address specific needs within civil society and its NGOs.

2. Engage and make your voice heard!

Become a member of NPOC. NPOC is working to dramatically increase the scale and scope of Civil Society and its NGOs in Internet governance policy and implementation, within and beyond ICANN. NPOC’s role and mission are to promote Civil Society stakeholder engagement in Internet governance, to make that voice heard and its opinions count.

3. Spread the word! Increase awareness, create capacities and build engagement: Become a regional implementation partner!

Working with NPOC, regional partners will implement outreach, awareness and capacity building programs using knowledge exchanges, regional train-the-trainers outreach and capacity building events. Regional outreach and capacity building events, supported by NPOC, are to be held by regional partner organizations, with NPOC support for engagement and capacity building materials.