The Open Internet on the Brink: Recommendations for a Future Model

Technology Policy Internet Policy

The Open Internet on the Brink: Recommendations for a Future Model

Paper
Posted on: 30th September 2021
By Multiple Authors
Andrew Bennett
Senior Policy Analyst
Melanie Garson
Policy Lead, Internet Policy Unit
Bridget Boakye
Policy Lead, Internet Policy Unit
Max Beverton-Palmer
Director of the Internet Policy Unit
Akos Erzse
Associate, Government Advisory
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    Key Points

    • Given the cooperation challenges of internet geopolitics, we need to adopt a new mindset and build a new model of internet internationalism. This should integrate state-level regulation, international coordination and the interests of multiple stakeholders to protect and nurture the internet ecosystem.
    • By mapping out trade-offs, emerging trends and available policy levers, we can reassess states’ core interests and identify novel coalitions to make progress.
    • Specifically, D10 countries should establish a new progressive state alliance that combines security guarantees with commitments towards an open internet; the UN should establish a new geopolitical settlement with the global technology industry; nations must upgrade their foreign policy strategies, integrating technology and the internet into traditional diplomacy; and there should be a new ecosystem oversight body that reports on the health of the internet to help protect its future.

    Securing geopolitical and internet stability against the backdrop we have set out requires a new approach. Akin to climate change, this is considered by some a “wicked problem”; making progress demands creative, hybrid policy solutions to align an array of state and institutional actors, even while rivalry between the great powers thwarts attempts to build effective mechanisms for international coordination.

    Building a Model of Internet Internationalism

    Building a Model

    In response, we propose a new model of internet internationalism, which can be constructed around a framework of trade-offs and interests in internet geopolitics, a range of potential futures, and the policy levers that would be needed to shape these futures.

    Trade-offs and Core Interests in Internet Geopolitics

    Focusing on geopolitical interests rather than existing positions can help solve some of the current stalemate in global technology cooperation. To date, hardened positions on individual issues, such as Huawei’s role in national infrastructure or TikTok’s ability to operate in the US, have been generated ad hoc rather than according to a principled, consistent framework. This siloed thinking has reduced opportunities for more creative negotiations across multiple issues and trade-offs while also setting a precedent for other states to take similarly reactive steps.

    Progressive leaders committed to openness, proportionate regulation and global cooperation must balance competing goals and the potential negative externalities of any action. There are some key questions to explore:

    • Do the benefits of increased government involvement in markets and standards-setting bodies outweigh the risks of co-opting more frontiers into geopolitical competition, potentially undermining the freedoms of technical fora?
    • Will greater representation of emerging digital economies in decision-making, thereby increasing the legitimacy of internet-governance institutions, also make it harder to build and sustain effective, action-oriented coalitions?
    • Can measures to counter China’s expansion of power be balanced against the risks of isolating it and damaging vital areas of cooperation?
    • How can advocates of the open internet respond to the growing geopolitical importance of emerging digital economies without treating them as pawns in a proxy digital conflict and relegating their agency and development issues?

    The default response may be to tackle each of these challenges individually, but – because steps taken in one domain can have knock-on effects in several others – leaders should instead consider the linkages between the challenges and work holistically across these issues to identify novel solutions and bargaining agreements.

    The Range of Possible Futures

    To facilitate this dynamic approach to negotiation – where issues are unbundled and repackaged to find multiple, novel coalitions that can surpass a static, entrenched status quo – policymakers should consider two crucial dimensions to the future of the internet:

    1. Bipolar versus multipolar: The tensions between the US and China may be centre stage today, but we are already moving from a bipolar to a multipolar world. This is not just about India and the EU joining the great power rivalry but about how LMICs – home to most of the 3.7 billion people who lack internet access – will come to determine the future shape of the internet.
    2. Nationalist versus internationalist: Against this backdrop, leaders have a choice: either retreat into a more nationalistic internet strategy by prioritising sovereignty and control at the cost of long-term social and economic opportunity; or employ a strategy of internet internationalism, which recognises that building and sustaining prosperous, open and inclusive societies requires effective global cooperation. This is also the difference between an all-out cold war between the US and China or a strategic approach to engagement that distinguishes between cooperation, competition and confrontation issues.

    The interplay of these dimensions could lead to many possible futures. But there is a prize to be won: an open, interoperable internet not based solely on US hegemony but stabilised through global interdependence.

    Figure 21 – The future of the internet in four scenarios

    Multipolar

    Fragmentation, friction, fragility

    Stable, open, interoperable internet

    US & China regional hegemons; economic statis

    Dynamic, but bifurcated, internet ecosystems

    Internet Internationalism

    Bipolar

    Internet Nationalism

    23

    Source: TBI

    The scenarios above are not mutually exclusive, and in all likelihood the balance may lie somewhere in between. However, as this report sets out, we are currently drifting closer towards a scenario characterised by fragmentation and friction than by stability and security. While some characteristics of the future will develop naturally with the evolution of the ecosystem, decisions made by the key actors in this arena are the variables that will shape these futures. Leaders have agency, and more internationalist strategies will help deliver prosperity and opportunity for all.

    Policy Levers to Shape These Futures

    The critical domains highlighted in this report – infrastructure, supply chains, standards and regulations – divide along a nationalism-internationalism axis. They are part of a continuum along which there are options for cooperation and coordination. While control and sovereignty may have short-term appeal as tools to minimise domestic social disruption or the new geopolitical power of multinational technology companies, the long-term result of tipping the balance too far is fragility, poor security, economic and social barriers, and declining relevance in the international arena.

    Figure 22 – Policy levers that could shape the future

    Internet Nationalism

     

    Internet Internationalism

     

    Politicised, fragile, fragmented

    Infrastructure

    "Dumb pipes" model sustained

    Divergence; economic barriers

    Standards & Regulations

    Harmonised; low barriers to all

    Declining relevance

    Institutions

    Renewal & relevance

    Restrictions; left behind

    LMICs

    Growth; leapfrogging

    Sovereignty, friction

    Data

    Free flow of data

    Source: TBI

    Inviting all states to visualise the entire ecosystem and coordinate across a range of issues, rather than narrowly competing on a series of individual points, will allow for broader, interest-based coalitions to emerge. This provides the room for nations to be flexible on some areas such as semiconductor supply-chain security, regulatory harmonisation or internet infrastructure projects in LMICs, rather than simply picking between ideologies.

    To that end, considering these key policy levers according to their prospects for global cooperation and their impact on the open internet can generate an illustrative framework to identify options and agreements for mutual gain.

    Figure 23 – Illustrative mapping of policy levers, by regional cooperation and impact on the open internet

    23

    Source: TBI

    This flexible approach also accommodates more security-focused strategies on issues such as semiconductors. Given that chip supply is both competitive and fixed in the short run (due to the time and cost of building new foundries), it is different to other cooperation issues such as internet infrastructure investment in LMICs where holding out for global solutions does not leave an unacceptable level of vulnerability unpatched. This approach also allows for greater transparency to understand the effects of the “hidden frontier”, such as whether arguments for the onshoring of supply chains are rational against the vulnerabilities resulting from bifurcation of technical standards or global data cables. For example, in time, US and EU steps to gain more control over semiconductor supply chains may actually allow them to offer security of supply as a cooperation incentive, freeing up other states to take decisions disliked by China.

    Norms of Internet Internationalism

    The case for internet internationalism is compelling. However, a common focus on the clashing values and incentives of the key players in today’s internet – the US, the EU, China and India; LMICs; big tech; crypto and web 3.0 innovators; multi-stakeholder forums and UN bodies – risks constraining the potential of a maximally internationalist approach. This emphasis means that areas for mutual cooperation on interests are being left undiscovered by focusing too heavily on perceptions of state interests rather than the actual problems they seek to address. Moving beyond the accepted cliché of “cooperation among like-minded democracies” would create space for unconventional actors to cooperate on issues on which they have a shared interest, as has been seen in recent US engagement with the so-called Quad countries (US, Japan, India and Australia).

    Creating a new normative framework, that draws together a wider group of nations and actors in their formulation and use, will create the foundations of cooperation for internet internationalism in practice. Similar to the norms underpinning non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the Group of Governmental Experts’ (GGE) norms for uses of cyberspace, cooperation should be based on a commitment to upholding key norms and rules of law that are integral to harnessing the opportunity and prosperity of the global and interoperable internet. These norms should include commitments to:

    • UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provisions on protections for submarine cables
    • Commitments for transparency on uses of technologies
    • Principles of international humanitarian and human rights law
    • Preservation of the multi-stakeholder model for technical standards development
    • Representation of, at the minimum, G7 countries in all standards fora to prevent authoritarian “forum shopping” and misuse of standards bodies.

    Putting these norms together with the range of possible policy levers, we can identify four key shifts necessary to promote a progressive future for the internet at the national, regional and international levels:

    • A new progressive alliance that supports the resilience of internet networks, infrastructure and supply chains and works towards regulatory harmonisation
    • A new geopolitical settlement with the global technology industry
    • Upgraded, nation-level foreign-policy approaches, integrating technology and the internet into traditional diplomacy
    • A new ecosystem oversight body that reports on the health of global networks and internet openness, acting as an early-warning system to provide the objective, technical basis on which to measure progress.

    Recommendations

    Recommendations
     

    1. A Digital Infrastructure and Defence Alliance (DIDA): the NATO for the Internet

    The broad interconnectivity of the internet ecosystem, as demonstrated throughout this report, is both its strength and its weakness. Actors wishing to move towards internet internationalism may fear that the risks of short-term retaliatory action outweigh the long-term benefits of moving to secure the entire system. Without commitments to underpin the security of their connectivity and access to the internet ecosystem, there is no incentive to cooperate.

    Building on the vision of the EU–US Trade and Technology Council – as well as similar proposals from former president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves and scholar Mauritz Kop – we are calling for a new Digital Infrastructure and Defence Alliance (DIDA). Starting with the D10 countries, this alliance could provide both the collective agreement and institutional foundation to align interests around cyber- and semiconductor-supply security, regulation and LMIC infrastructure.

    Of the D10 countries (G7 plus Australia, India and South Korea), it might initially seem that India would be reluctant to sign up to commitments on internet openness. However, it may find that the security guarantees it would gain by being part of DIDA, such as on semiconductor supply, combined with its incentive to retain its status as the world’s largest democracy, outweigh any other concerns. Its recent commitment as part of the Quad to secure global semiconductor supply chains indicates this is a priority strategic interest.

    DIDA also recognises that, while some issues in internet internationalism should be tackled globally, there are specific issues where regional cooperation among like-minded liberal democracies can be productive. However, NATO itself is not the right mechanism: as Ilves has argued, it is focused around geography, which is less relevant in the internet ecosystem, and was not designed for a modern-day environment characterised more by digital, asymmetric attacks than in the past. In the internet era, national and cybersecurity cooperation can also be part of a greater package of collaboration including regulatory alignment, supply-chain security and global infrastructure investment rather than simply ‘collective defence’.

    By starting with the D10 and explicitly looking to expand further, DIDA also widens the circle of cooperation partners beyond the traditional players. To that end, the recent AUKUS announcement and new semiconductor commitments by the Quad are promising, but given their members’ overlapping interests – as well as the precedent of the communiqué from the UK’s G7 presidency, which included deep commitments on technology cooperation, being co-signed by the full D10 – these groupings should be expanded further.

    Indeed, the long-term trajectory should be to expand the alliance to any state that is willing to commit to liberal internet values and seeks important internet-security commitments. For the LMICs that are at a tipping point in deciding their future internet model, these security guarantees would enable them to set their own internet policies without fear of retribution by any infrastructure vendors or foreign governments.

    DIDA Security Agenda

    A member-based DIDA would allow states to cooperate while knowing that their key infrastructure is not at risk. Modelled along the lines of a NATO alliance, partners would provide critical backup, similar to NATO Article 5, if a fellow alliance partner was subject to action affecting their connectivity or free use of the internet. For example, beyond existing cybersecurity cooperation, if a country is subject to network disruptions – either due to infrastructure controlled by another state or sabotage – the alliance could work to ensure consistent internet access, perhaps via satellite. Or if a country found its semiconductor supply cut off because it took a position in a standards institution that was not aligned with its supplier, another alliance member could step in to help bridge the gap. In this way, while EU and US attempts to gain greater control over semiconductor supply chains may appear to be a step back for open, globalised markets, they could help change their allies’ cooperation incentives and thus protect the open internet in the long term. This security alliance would provide a safety net that, in turn, could allow DIDA states to act according to their best interests in technical-standards fora and other internet-governance institutions. They would be able to trade off their commitments to positions to access the opportunities of the open and interoperable internet without exposing themselves to other vulnerabilities.

    DIDA Regulatory Agenda

    DIDA could also enable greater international cooperation in areas such as antitrust reform, cybersecurity, data privacy, AI governance and ethics, and content moderation. While there will always be region-specific issues, it is in the interests of a productive and effective global internet economy to find areas for international alignment to prevent digital borders. This would build on the EU–US Trade and Technology Council to include wider global representation of the alliance, identifying where existing regulatory solutions can be strengthened and aligned, as well as to agree a set of common principles for future regulation. And this would include coordinating engagement in the multi-stakeholder process to develop enforceable global standards, as well as promoting the voices of LMICs, which may be disenfranchised in the setting of regulations by regulatory bodies with larger internet economies.

    The DIDA initiative should also consider how coordinated public investments can shape the competitive terrain of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence so they are compatible with liberal values. This would include aligning investment in areas such as machine-learning techniques that rely less on real-world data collection (such as simulation learning or one-shot learning). Investment to improve the viability of interpretability, fairness and privacy techniques could also shift the adoption curve within the field of AI research before path dependence sets in. A DIDA-AI research institute with ambitious public funding would be well positioned to make progress on these competitive terrain questions.

    DIDA Internet Infrastructure Agenda

    DIDA should also provide the support needed to coordinate a new transatlantic belt and road for the internet. While the G7 has discussed this ambition, it has come with little detail on financing that would change market dynamics for internet infrastructure – particularly in Africa. Alongside a funding offer, DIDA should advocate for competitive markets around the world and help their cutting-edge firms to expand fairly and responsibly in new digital markets, in turn providing the platforms and services upon which businesses, both physical and digital, can build their own futures.

    In practice, DIDA should coordinate investment in infrastructure and ensure access to close the digital divide by 2030. As TBI analysis has previously set out, the investment necessary to close this gap by 2030 is approximately $450 billion. To put this cost in perspective, raising these funds would require member countries of the Development Assistance Committee – an arm of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – to contribute just 0.02 per cent of their gross national income (GNI) per year. This is a small price to pay for a foundational investment that would enable low- and middle-income countries to forge their own paths to prosperity and expand the global internet economy to everyone’s benefit.

    Members of DIDA should also develop a programme of expanded trading relationships and investment opportunities in the broader internet ecosystem, particularly elements that boost demand for internet services in emerging economies. On the technology side, this means policy to incentivise investment in servers and core infrastructure that make the internet more reliable, as well as investment in software (for example, payment and cybersecurity systems) because modern infrastructure will help facilitate advanced economies. It should also mean facilitating trade in cultural goods – supporting the cultural and social vibrancy of online communities can help grow digital economies from the ground up. Investing in creative sectors in 2021 has never been more cost-effective with modern digital tools and platforms such as YouTube and TikTok. There are positive externalities of greater consumption of digital cultural goods such as the build-out of content delivery networks (CDNs) that can offer entertainment, education or e-commerce services. The aim should be for the internet giants’ network of CDNs around the world to look more like it does in North America and in Europe.

     

    2. Strategic Geopolitical Status: A New Settlement With Global Tech

    The geopolitical power of many tech companies is now a fact: hyperscale technology players operating globally, in multiple adjacent sectors, often control several vertical layers of the internet stack. From submarine cabling to smartphone apps, these firms have an outsized role in shaping the internet as one of the world’s most important economic and social infrastructures.

    So far, the geopolitical importance of some technology companies has primarily been acknowledged via ad hoc investigations into foreign takeovers (for example, NVIDIA/ARM or Nexperia/Newport Wafer Fab in the UK) or national security (in the case of TikTok in the US, or global bans on Huawei components in 5G networks). While merited, this is a very narrow view of internet geopolitics and these decisions are highly reactive, focused only on combatting the domestic spread of foreign (mostly Chinese) tech players. There is comparatively little attention given to the proactive role that US, UK and EU tech companies – and any others that have benefitted from a liberal, open internet model – could play to protect, preserve and promote this model internationally.

    A new approach should start with the UN designating a new class of firms with “strategic geopolitical status” to formally recognise the global importance of some of them. This approach builds on competition proposals in countries like the UK, which plan to treat “strategic market status” firms as a special class with corresponding rights and responsibilities. In practice, this approach should include three critical mechanisms:

    1. Requirement to establish and/or join a geo-technology board, a new type of independent, industry-wide, self-regulatory body for global technology companies with significant geopolitical importance
    2. These new bodies (and there could be multiple) should have non-member observer status at the UN to provide an authoritative touchpoint between global policymakers and technology companies
    3. Requirement for firms to set out a new international policy, recognising their role as global proponents for a secure, open, liberal internet model

    Defining the precise threshold for this equivalent “strategic geopolitical status” designation is beyond the scope of this report, but taking a global view and considering firms that operate in more than 50 countries, have more than 50 million monthly active users (for consumer tech companies), and have annual revenues of more than $1 billion and/or a market capitalisation or private valuation of more than $30 billion would be a good place to start before working down to smaller companies with outsized impact (such as Reddit).

    A. Geo-Technology Boards: A New Regulatory Model

    There are several domains where technology companies are playing a more active, global role. On content policy, social-media players act as a “frontline enforcer” based on varied national rules while also taking extraordinary, and sometimes divergent or inconsistent, decisions to moderate the actions of some world leaders on their platforms. Large services also act as de facto elements of the state apparatus, delivering contracts for governments and militaries, or working closely with law enforcement and intelligence agencies on countering terrorist and child abuse content, as well as cybercrime attribution and other national-security risks. Companies including Facebook and Google also provide basic internet services and submarine data cables to underserved communities around the world.

    These geopolitical issues are not reducible to any one narrow policy area or domestic regulator. That makes regulation by individual states insufficient and prone to divergence. On the other hand, while critics of the tech industry bemoan the apparent failure of self-regulation, this is misplaced. The status quo of voluntary, individual and uncoordinated decision-making is an entirely different model from proper, enforced self-regulation with mandatory codes of practice and industry-wide enforcement. The latter looks more like the US Bar Association or the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority than merely a “lawless wild west”.

    Facebook’s Oversight Board has shown the benefits of creating an independent governance mechanism and challenge function, but its impact is limited to one company and its scope is focused only on content decisions. In contrast, a broader self-regulatory body open not just to the largest tech firms or most visible social-media companies but also to infrastructure services like Cloudflare and Stripe could offer more effective, industry-wide accountability on important geopolitical issues.

    An industry self-regulator could have numerous benefits for tech companies across arenas, creating opportunities for more unified and coherent engagement. Better coordination of policies could reduce liabilities; smaller companies can benefit from pooled policy capability and resource; and making this model work could also avoid a costly, misplaced alternative of utility-style regulation from yesteryear. The technology industry does already collaborate on some issues, such as cybersecurity or terrorist and child sexual abuse material (CSAM), but a formal body providing a more consistent engagement route for nation-states would be a step forward.

    B. Observer Status at the UN

    Nongovernmental organisations have been able to participate in some form in UN deliberations since its inception. Organisations have participated in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 1946 in a consultative capacity, with 5,593 currently having active consultative status. This type of status is limited, however, as it is dependent upon invitations to individual meetings.

    The UN itself may grant non-member states, international organisations and other entities the status of Permanent Observer. The criteria for granting this status have no set basis in the UN Charter or the General Assembly Rules of Procedure and the status can be conferred on states and intergovernmental organisations “whose activities cover matters of interest to the Assembly.” Observer status allows the organisation to have access to UN fora, other than the Security Council, but the organisation cannot propose resolutions and also cannot vote on proposals and resolutions. Observer organisations do not all maintain permanent missions at UN headquarters.

    A wide range of organisations have been granted observer status, including the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in 2016 on the basis of “its special role and authority as a representative of the business community in more than 120 countries.” This also met the need that the UN had identified to give greater opportunities to the business community “to contribute to the realisation of the goals and programmes of the organisation.” Advocates for the ICC’s accession emphasised the lack of representation of the business sector and the need for greater participation of the private sector in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

    For nation-states, extending this principle of representation to a technology industry that is increasingly important geopolitically has several benefits. Just as the ICC was granted observer status in recognition of the private sector’s role in achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs), the activities and decisions of private tech companies are increasingly important for achieving global public goals in health (SDG 3), education (SDG 4), economic growth (SDG 8) and innovation (SDG 9).

    UN representation would also provide a critical touchpoint between firms and policymakers so that company decisions with wider geopolitical impact weren’t made in a vacuum. Social-media bans on world leaders, for example, should remain the prerogative of private services, but engagement at the UN could allow a wider, more accountable discussion of the frameworks behind these decisions, or highlight inconsistent application of rules.

    For smaller countries, a permanent representation at the UN for the global tech industry would also be a way of engaging companies in lieu of creating a new tech ambassador and staffing a new diplomatic corps, as many wealthier countries have been able to do. In this way, UN representation could be more equitable, particularly for the LMICs that will come to shape the future of the internet in global technology governance.

    For industry, being represented at the UN would weaken the criticism that tech executives take global decisions without accountability, while giving companies the opportunity to advocate for coherent, liberal, globally aligned internet policies. Many of the most geopolitically important companies have been built in a liberal regulatory model and value system, and this is reflected in their missions. For example, Facebook's stated mission is to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”, while Google’s is “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. When meaningful internet access is increasingly under threat, and global internet regulations are increasingly diverging, technology companies have both a moral and economic incentive to promote a liberal, interoperable model globally. Effective engagement at the UN could promote this.

    C. International Policies of Tech Firms

    Recognising their role as beneficiaries and proponents of a secure, open, liberal internet model, firms with Strategic Geopolitical Status should be required to set out a new international policy. At minimum, this should include:

    • Coordination on world-leader social-media policies to ensure consistency
    • Investment in local language-moderation capabilities to minimise social unrest globally and weaken the incentive for countries to block website access
    • Establishment of a framework to review the activities of firms in authoritarian states in order to uphold liberal values and avoid being complicit in repression
    • Participation in efforts to limit and attribute cybercrime
    • Cooperation with a new Multi-Stakeholder Panel on Internet Policy, modelled on the expert IPCC in climate policy, to share data on the health of global online networks and anticipate future risks
     

    3. Oversight from a Multi-Stakeholder Panel on Internet Policy (MPIP)

    While DIDA would represent a mechanism for nations to cooperate on internet governance, there remains a wider class of issues where global action is necessary. In particular, in order for actors to fully engage in the diplomacy required for internet internationalism, they require the knowledge, support and objective criteria of the impacts of potential changes on the entire ecosystem. Technical discussions about the internet remain too disconnected from political debate, with decisions often focused on short-term priorities at the expense of long-term issues. Similarly, consensus on the need for reforms means little if there is nobody to hold the key geopolitical actors accountable on delivering those changes.

    Reforms to multi-stakeholder fora and UN bodies remain challenging. While there is widespread consensus about the need for improvements, there is little agreement about the specifics, and debates over restructuring have become battlegrounds between states, companies, technical experts and civil society, making meaningful change impossible. Crucially, there is no independent body helping to negotiate an agenda or acting as an early-warning system if there is erosion of the internet ecosystem.

    A promising model is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN body that has an important function in global climate action, distilling the scientific into the political and ensuring that leaders can take action. There is a gap in the internet ecosystem for a parallel organisation, as recommended by the UK–China Global Issues Dialogue Centre at Jesus College, University of Cambridge. An expert-led, multi-stakeholder oversight body could provide a form of “semi-formal” diplomacy to plug this gap by properly equipping global leaders. It should sit outside of both existing multi-stakeholder fora and UN bodies, avoiding their challenges, without replacing their undoubted merits or triggering broader debates about reform that sap all available time, energy and resource.

    The MPIP should be charged with providing the knowledge and insights to enable the protection of the internet ecosystem, including proposals for the renewal of existing institutions. This should include improved spaces to evaluate the policy impact of technical proposals and far better representation of the global internet community, particularly LMICs. If such reforms do not happen, these organisations risk declining in relevance even further – at least in the mindset of some key industry and geopolitical players. In this scenario, it may be necessary for the MPIP’s remit to expand beyond merely an independent, ecosystem oversight body.

    Crucially, membership should not be restricted to nation-states. Robust analysis of the health of both public and private infrastructure and networks would require cooperation with technology companies and telecoms providers. Involving them could, in turn, provide a formal means of recognising their geopolitical power in a way that the Internet Governance Forum has not been able to do. As discussed, the opportunity to be represented at a newly authoritative, global internet forum could also act as an incentive to technology companies to actively cooperate on promoting an open, internationalist internet.

     

    4. Integrated Digital, Data and Tech Foreign Policy

    In order to build a coherent approach to engagement in standards and regulatory bodies as a foreign-policy priority, countries should develop an integrated foreign-policy incorporating a technology strategy. This should include empowering a cadre of technology diplomats and ambassadors who are well-equipped to negotiate across various multi-stakeholder and multilateral governance bodies and can build novel coalitions to stabilise the internet ecosystem. This could mean:

    • A tech diplomatic corps to liaise with private tech companies through policy pipelines, bilateral tech hubs and clusters globally
    • Actively supporting an open and progressive vision of the internet as central to liberal democratic values, and critical to helping emerging economies reap the full economic, social and cultural benefits of the tech revolution
    • Coordination with like-minded nations on a consistent and coherent message in international standards-setting bodies for responsible and ethical standards within new technologies
    • Alignment between domestic ministries that engage in international fora to ensure the development of international-governance initiatives that support responsible development and use of new and emerging tech such as distributed ledger technology (DLT)
    • Broad international cybersecurity cooperation including technical assistance and capacity building that not only reduces the global digital divide, but also supports the growth of emerging digital economies and facilitates the beneficial uses of new and emerging technologies

    Conclusion

    The internet ecosystem is at a critical tipping point. However, the perception that the challenges it faces are so great they cannot be resolved could condemn it to a future that we must all seek to avoid. Yet current approaches range from outright avoidance to extreme competition on the fundamental protocols on which the internet is built. Both strategies will ultimately lead to the unravelling of the internet as we know it.

    The mindset and practical steps of internet internationalism can help tilt the future towards a more progressive, sustainable and globally beneficial internet. This new model provides the framework to step back and visualise areas of common interests, to harness the benefits of mutual cooperation, to maximise the value in stepping away from polarised narratives and to build an objective knowledge base for effective decision-making. It will provide the guidance for leaders to develop national, regional and international capacity to align and engage with critical stakeholders in order to preserve and enhance the global, open and interoperable internet – which underpins immense social and economic prosperity for all.

    Acknowledgements

    Acknowledgements

    The authors are extremely grateful to the following for sharing their expertise as part of the research behind this report:

    • Adeboye Adegoke, Senior Program Manager, Paradigm Initiative
    • Karoliina Ainge, Cybersecurity and Technology Lead, Independent Diplomat
    • Kevin Allison, Director, Geo-technology, Eurasia Group
    • Felicia Anthonio, Campaign Coordinator, Access Now
    • Katja Bego, Principal Researcher and Future Internet Lead, Nesta
    • Jochai Ben-Avie, Steering Committee Co-Chair, Connect Humanity and Fellow, Atlantic Council
    • Lily Edinam Botsyoe, Community Engagement Lead, Hacklab Foundation
    • Chris Cash, Researcher, China Research Group
    • James Crabtree, Executive Director, Asia, International Institute for Strategic Studies
    • Tanya Filer, Founder, StateUp and Policy & Research Leader, Bennett Institute, University of Cambridge
    • Ben Greenstone, Managing Director, Taso Advisory
    • Linda Griffin, VP, Global Public Policy, Kry / Livi
    • Dom Hallas, Executive Director, Coadec
    • Rose Jackson, Director of the Policy Initiative, Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab
    • Dr Konstantinos Komaitis, Policy Fellow, Brave New Software Foundation
    • Sébastien Krier, Senior Technology Policy Researcher, Stanford Cyber Policy Center
    • Dominique Lazanski, Director, Last Press Label
    • Kieren McCarthy, Executive Director, IFFOR
    • Nick Merrill, Director, Daylight Lab, UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity
    • Julia Pamilih, Researcher, China Research Group
    • Andrew Roughan, Managing Director, PLEXAL
    • Emily Taylor, CEO, Oxford Information Labs and Associate Fellow, Chatham House
    • Antoine Vergne, Co-Director, Missions Publiques
    • Chris Worman, VP, Alliances and Program Development, TechSoup and Steering Committee Co-Chair, Connect Humanity

    Charts created with Highcharts unless otherwise credited.

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