Internet governance roadmap

Internet governance roadmap
Photo by delfi de la Rua / Unsplash

The development of a Global Digital Compact (GDC) as part of the UN's Summit of the Future has the potential to shape the governance of digital technologies for years to come through a high-level expression of contributions by countries. This week there is a Stakeholders Informal Consultation in New York. I hope to orient this process within and among the existing bodies in the internet governance landscape. For a calendar of events related to the GDC, see:

After the jump, check out an agenda for the technical community on internet governance in 2024-25.

More from the week

A Roadmap for the Technical Community: Internet Governance in 2024-25

The following could be viewed as a strategic outline to guide technical community engagement in internet governance. Feedback is welcome. Thanks are due to Rose Jackson and Konstantinos Komaitis from the Atlantic Council, and Sally Wentworth and Olaf Kolkman from the Internet Society. And to Jordan Carter and Chris Buckridge for presenting to the Internet Architecture Board these important opportunities.

Internet Governance Roadmap in 2024 

The following could be viewed as a strategic outline to guide technical community engagement in internet governance.


The United Nations will hold a “Summit of the Future” in September 2024. The event–inspired by the UN Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” report–is intended to reshape and modernize the world’s multilateral system to address the challenges of 2030 and beyond. As part of the Summit, the UN SG tasked his Envoy on Technology to initiate the negotiation of a Global Digital Compact (GDC), to “outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all.” Global civil society and democratic governments alike have been closely following the subsequent GDC consultation processes, the UN SG’s own policy brief on the subject, and the short report submitted by member-state co-facilitators Sweden and Zambia. Internet and democracy experts have expressed concerns that the process as currently scoped risks undermining the multistakeholder system of internet governance, and is a platform for states to advance their visions of a state-controlled internet.

The UN SG and his Tech Envoy have discussed the potential creation of a new UN body, referred to in the SG’s brief as the “Digital Cooperation Forum,” which many fear would undermine or even replace the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Coincidentally, civil society participation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia-hosted IGF in 2024 is likely to be low for reasons of both security and principle, which could further undermine the IGF.

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is a process led by the ITU but instantiated and reviewed every 10 years by the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) (New York). The WSIS process produced the Geneva Plan of Action and Tunis Agenda, which set out broad areas of agreement around internet governance and ICT-development financing mechanisms, as well as a series of related targets and action lines facilitated by various UN agencies (including the ITU, UNESCO, UNCTAD, and UN DESA). The resulting process effectively yielded the mandate of the management of the domain name system to remain under a bottom-up multistakeholder structure governed by ICANN and created the multistakeholder IGF, in which all states have a role (but does not aim for negotiated outcomes) alongside and equal with stakeholders from the private sector, the technical community, and civil society.

The WSIS+10 Review occurred during a time of heavy privatization and relatively harmonious international order, in which “enhanced cooperation” of states ultimately failed to spark increased action. This review took place against the backdrop of the highly contrasting multistakeholder NETmundial and in the midst of the IANA stewardship transition process. Around this same time the ITU was opened to Sector Member observers. The WSIS+20 Review begins with a high-level session in May 2024 in Geneva and ends at UNGA in September 2025 in New York, though preparations by the CSTD have already begun. The review takes stock of the last two decades of internet governance, identifies where the multistakeholder system can be strengthened, and initiates a conversation about what an evolved process could look like. 

The UN Secretary General’s AI Advisory Body, while drawing on experts from the private sector, academia and civil society, is an indicator of the appetite for state-led definitions and guidance (especially to facilitate AI innovation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals), and will launch a report at the AI For Good Summit, tacked on to the WSIS+20 Forum high-level event.

Principled supporters of multistakeholder internet governance have urged countries, companies, standards-setting bodies, and civil society to demonstrate the value and power of the established model by showing up in force at the many global multistakeholder gatherings occurring throughout the year. The next step should be to map the major multistakeholder internet governance fora in 2024, the communities most often present, and provide an assessment of the strategic opportunities and risks related to attendance and engagement at each.


The multistakeholder model of an open internet is facing a new round of challenges from multilateralism. In the context of UNGA’s (New York) GDC process, the WSIS+20 Review and other trends, we see the open internet obliquely challenged by increased government intervention. Democratic countries, industry, and civil society are working in coordination to demonstrate the value and strong global support for the multistakeholder model. At the same time it is important for open internet proponents to find ways to address the genuine frustrations with the concentration of tech-related power in the US and Europe. Focusing on connectivity, digital inclusion, and development in existing fora like the IETF and ICANN is one strategy that other aligned stakeholders are taking up to defend the internet.

There are key internet governance fora in 2024-2025 where coordinated and connective action is being taken up by aligned stakeholders. This implicates engagement in NetMundial+10 (with the G20 taking place on the margins); the WSIS Forum (Geneva), the Summit of the Future at UNGA (of which the GDC is one part); ICANN 80 Policy Forum and related High Level Governmental Meeting, and the IGF 2024; all culminating in the WSIS+20 Review (New York) where countries will discuss, among other things, whether and how to renew the multilateral commitments of states to the ITU’s WSIS Forum, the IGF and ICANN.

The good, the bad and the ugly: Tracing these processes back in history, the technical community has been present at each one– WSIS launched the IGF and accepted ICANN and the RIR’s positions as the multistakeholder governing fora we know today; NetMundial benefitted from an uncharacteristically unified I-Star in the context of the IANA transition to mitigate the US hegemonic surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden. And while the IANA transition shows significant progress in globalizing internet governance, the role of  the California Attorney General in halting the sale of .org served to highlight the influence that individual national or local authorities still have on Internet governance decisions. Together with AFRINIC’s legal situation, proponents of multilateral internet governance are building evidence for why naming and numbering should not be in the hands of institutions subject to national jurisdictions.

Furthermore it is obscure to most whether the strategies, positions and work of the technical community have changed significantly over the past 20 years, or even what those were. States are currently empowered– see: regulation, “digital public infrastructure”, and AI for sustainable development; while the technical community has no clearly articulated affirmative and practical vision for the future of the open and interoperable internet. Nor is it clear how the IAB as a leader within the technical community can promote its shared vision within these various processes in order to protect the open internet.

Key objectives for technical community engagement

  • Given Brazil’s chairing the G20 and status as an established leader of BRICS, NetMundial+10 presents an important symbolic and substantive opportunity to engage with Global Majority countries, similar to the way in which the I-Stars showed up at NetMundial ten years ago. There are additional convergences in the Global South that deserve attention. Technical community engagement in more places and on diverse issues is the goal.
  • The UN processes in New York (UNGA) and Geneva (ITU) are exerting and emphasizing their roles through overlapping processes, both of which hope to reassert control over the internet. It could be that UNGA, through the GDC and Summit of the Future, weakens multistakeholderism and strengthens its own multilateral process. And it could be that the ITU through WSIS+20 Member State contributions call out governance weaknesses in ICANN and the RIRs. Even if these actions fail, the contributions of Member States who make strong arguments for “network sovereignty” and against the open internet will be captured and echoed for many years. Preserving the mandates of the multistakeholder I-stars is the goal.

Additional reading

  1. Costerton, Sally, John Curran, and Paul Wilson. "The Global Digital Compact: A Top-Down Attempt to Minimize the Role of the Technical Community." ICANN, 21 Aug. 2023,
  2. Carter, Jordan. "What WSIS is and why WSIS+20 matters." auDA,
  3. Komaitis, Konstantinos. “Global Digital Compact– additional submission.” Self, March 2023,
  4. The Global Digital Compact: A better way than the Policy Brief Proposal: 
  5. “UN Pact for the Future: zero draft.” UN. 26 January 2024. 

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