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The (ongoing) quest for Latin America’s role in internet governance

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Carolina Aguerre and Hernan Galperin of UDESA discuss the results of their research into Latin American internet governance mechanisms. Click here to read the full report.

Marco civil da internetSince the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in November 2012, policy experts and scholars have demonstrated a more focused interest in understanding regional variations in internet governance preferences and organizational models. Yet many of these efforts have failed to fully grasp the complexity of a region such as Latin America. Part of the problem lies in the lack of a strong supranational political institution such as the European Union. Latin America is a patchwork quilt of various political and trade agreements, none of which provide a coherent framework for collective action on critical internet governance issues.

Our research suggests that countries in the region should not be characterized as “swing states (Maurer and Morgus, 2014),” for many have a long-standing record of formal and/or tacit support for the current multistakeholder governance model. The analysis looks at three dimensions of governance: the technical, the institutional, and the systemic. We focus our research on four case studies: Argentina, Costa Rica, and Mexico, with Brazil serving as a comparative reference, due to its status as a well-documented, successful model of multistakeholder governance. The three cases offer a fascinating perspective on the challenges that countries face in the early stages of institutional-building for internet governance. In particular, we analyze the key forces that shape the strategies of the multiple stakeholders involved, thus shedding light on the different organizational models that are emerging across the region.

In previous blogposts, we developed the overall scope and objectives of the study. In this post we review our main findings, which open several avenues for future research.

With the exception of Brazil, the countries examined have only recently embarked on a process of institutional-building for internet policymaking. This is a familiar pattern in Latin America, where most countries began developing national internet governance following the Snowden revelations in mid-2013. In general terms, these initiatives are meant to be coordination mechanisms for consensus-building and policy implementation at the national level. Yet critical differences are found between the CAPI in Argentina, the CCI in Costa Rica and the Group Initiative in Mexico.

Argentina’s CAPI is essentially an internal mechanism for coordination among different government agencies and ministries. Mexico’s Initiative, however, has a strong multistakeholder orientation, mimicking the model found in Brazil’s CGI. Yet a critical difference lies in the level of formalization, for the Mexican initiative is highly informal and dependent on voluntary participation by various stakeholders, including the government. In terms of formality, Costa Rica’s CCI lies somewhere between CAPI and the Governance Initiative. While it is more formal in nature than Mexico’s, its representation mechanism has given significantly more power to the government through various agencies.

These facts suggest, first, that the forces shaping the multistakeholder model at the global level are much weaker at the national level. Rather, in each country, different organizational models are taking shape, reflecting individual institutions and political equilibria. Second, the facts suggest a maturing process whereby informal coordination mechanisms are, over time, formalized in organizations capable of accommodating the various stakeholders that comprise the internet ecosystem. Finally, these facts clearly suggest that states are demanding, and to a large degree achieving, a larger role in shaping internet policies.

Figure 1 illustrates a more general theoretical case based on these findings. The figure plots various internet governance mechanisms according to two variables: first, the degree to which the mechanism has been formalized by government law, administrative act, international treaty or similar institutional act (vertical axis); second, the degree to which the mechanisms confers powers (e.g., veto power, larger representation, etc.) to the state (horizontal axis). We implicitly plot a third variable (time), for governance mechanisms spanning several decades are represented.

FIGURE 1: Formalization and state power in internet governance mechanisms


This conceptual matrix of policymaking mechanisms reveals the three distinct configurations that have characterized internet governance since the 1980s. The first is the consensus model, which is best illustrated by the IETF and the development of internet standards in the 1980s. At a time when the internet community was small and relatively homogeneous, the RFC model of “rough consensus and running code” was an effective mechanism for reaching agreement on the basic architectural pillars of this emerging technology. The recent Mexican initiative on internet governance resembles this model: it is, by and large, an informal, consensus-building mechanism where state actors work alongside multiple other stakeholders. It is open to participation and decisions are non-binding.

As the internet became more complex in its structure and geographical scope in the 1990s, a new policymaking model begin to coalesce around ICANN and other focal institutions such as WSIS and later the IGF. While this phase retained the multistakeholder principles that characterized the first phase, participation and decision-making mechanisms were increasingly formalized, while national governments began to demand a larger role in the process. We call this period the U.S. multistakeholder phase, given the prominent role played by the U.S. government with respect to ICANN’s attributions. This is also the model represented by Brazil’s CGI and Costa Rica’s CCI initiative: a formal, state-sanctioned mechanism for policymaking in which different non-state actors are represented, but to varying degrees (e.g., more so in the case of Brazil than in the case of Costa Rica).

The third phase, which we call a global mixed regime, is characterized by increasing pressure from state actors in the developing world for a larger role in existing multilateral institutions, such as the ITU at the global level or the OAS and ECLAC at the regional level. These actors are not outright rejecting the multistakeholder principles of the previous phases; rather, they seek increased representation through various means, including shifting debates to organizations perceived as more representative of their interests.

Our findings were first presented in a seminar organized by the Center for Technology and Society (Universidad de San Andres) (link) and the Center for Global Communication Studies (link) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in April 2015. The seminar brought together academics, civil society, industry, and government representatives, and the discussion centered on the role of Latin America in internet governance debates. There was consensus that the region has come a long way, yet much remains to be done at the national and regional levels in order to increase the region’s relevance and impact in global internet policy debates.

Click here to read the full report.


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Photograph by onas Pereira/Agência Senado via Senado Federal Flickr

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