The Internet Governance Restaurant is a metaphoric answer to two key questions in the current debate echoing also in many of the 182 submissions for the forthcoming NETmundial: How to make Internet governance (IG) legitimate? How to grasp the complexity of IG without reducing its healthy diversity? In official lingo, the IG Restaurant could be called a global IG clearing house, or a global IG coordination committee, or in techno-lingo, perhaps an ‘IG router’.
Before we explain how the IG Restaurant could work, let’s see what the problem is with IG’s legitimacy and complexity, the two key challenges that need to be addressed.
The unknown and the incomprehensible aspects of IG triggers uneasiness for many. The unknown can also be threatening. This is how quite a few governments and other actors feel when facing the maze of IG issues being discussed in hundreds of organisations and venues worldwide. Without the participation of all concerned, or at least the genuine possibility of their participation, the legitimacy of IG will remain questionable.
A typical counter-argument is that IG organisations, especially non-governmental ones – are open to anyone to participate. It is true; anyone can attend meetings of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), among others.
The problem lies in the gap between the theoretical possibility of participating and the reality to do so in a meaningful way. Between possibility and reality, there are many barriers, starting from the relatively trivial ones like getting a visa to travel to the venue, to the more sophisticated barrier of not understanding the discussion once you get there. In addition, many countries and actors simply do not have the institutional ‘bandwidth’ (time, people, and resources) to follow such a diverse policy space as IG.
Yet, the perception that something of strategic importance for a country (the Internet is a critical infrastructure) is being addressed in the IG maze and governments (among others) are not a part of it, creates uneasiness, and questions the legitimacy of IG. We can say that this is merely a perception, but our perceptions – as we know – are our reality. To paraphrase Douglas Adams (author of The Restaurant at the end of the Universe and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), everything we see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to us. We create a universe by perceiving it.
This tension between declared possibilities to influence IG and reality (including perceived ones) should be at the centre of NETmundial’s second agenda item: discussion about the roadmap for the IG ecosystem. The IG Restaurant metaphor could further discussion in two main directions.
First, IG Restaurant could be the place where IG actors can voice their problems and seek solutions. Most of these problems will be more legal and economic, than technical. For example, Bitcoin dominates the media these days. Many experts see it as a threat for global monetary stability. Yet, others – especially on Wall Street – see it as a great innovation. Should IG actors – in particular, governments – follow it through the media or have a place where they can address it?
The IG Restaurant should be where they can order information or action on Bitcoin. The ‘chefs’ preparing the Bitcoin order could be the Bank of International Settlements in Basel (a club of national banks). Around the table might sit the IMF, think-tanks and others who can address this issue from financial, legal and technical perspectives. The result regarding Bitcoin could range from doing nothing to banning it internationally. The more solutions found for practical problems, the more the IG Restaurant will build its reputation (and contribute to the functional legitimacy of IG).
The kitchen, as is the modern trend, should be made of glass (fully transparent) with as little mess on the table as possible (clear procedures). The main challenge will be to find a lead ‘chef’, an honest broker who can respect the various interests while facilitating a functional outcome. If a solution cannot be found, the issue could then be raised as a matter of public policy. In realpolitik terms, all players will be able to choose between a big carrot (win-win and inclusive solutions) and a small stick (regulatory and legislative interventions).
Second, the IG Restaurant must have a very good menu, served by waiters who can give good, honest advice, helping diners to choose the right meal for them and not simply selling just any food. In other words, guests should feel comfortable that they understand the overall IG menu, and know what is available (address perceptional issues).
While we are discussing NETmundial submissions for the ‘roadmap for the IG ecosystem’, we should think of the IG Restaurant as a way in which this complex language could be explained to people outside IG circles, to our friends, to our bosses, to our politicians. All of them are concerned, to some extent, with the good reputation of the IG Restaurant and the future of IG.
What would you like to see on the menu? How would you like the restaurant to look? What specials would you like to see on offer? Let us know. Some of them could be ‘served’ at NETmundial.