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<nettime> Blogpost: The Multistakeholder Model, Neo-liberalism and Globa
michael gurstein on Thu, 27 Mar 2014 04:04:26 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Blogpost: The Multistakeholder Model, Neo-liberalism and Global (Internet) Governance

(with links)




The Multistakeholder Model, Neo-liberalism and Global (Internet) Governance 

Michael Gurstein

I've commented elsewhere on the sudden emergence and insertion of the
"multistakeholder model
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multistakeholder_governance_model> " (referred
to here also as multistakeholderism or MSism) in Internet Governance
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_governance>  discussions some 2 or 3
years ago
reflections-on-wcit-2012/> . The term of course, has been around a lot
longer and even has been used within the Internet sphere to describe (more
or less appropriately) the decision-making processes of various of the
Internet's technical bodies (the IETF <http://www.ietf.org/> , the IAB
<https://www.iab.org/> , ICANN <https://www.icann.org/> ).

What is new and somewhat startling is the full court press
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full-court_press>  by the US government (USG)
and its allies and acolytes among the corporate, technical and civil society
participants in Internet Governance discussions to extend the use of the
highly locally adapted versions of the MS model from the quite narrow and
technical areas where it has achieved a considerable degree of success
towards becoming the fundamental and effectively, only, basis on which such
Internet Governance discussions are to be allowed (as per the USG's
statement concerning the transfer of the DNS management function
-key-internet-domain-name-functions> ) to go forward. Notably as well
"multistakeholderism" seems to have replaced "Internet Freedom" as the
mobilizing Internet meme of choice (
global-internet-governance/> "Internet Freedom" having been somewhat
discredited by post-Snowden associations of Internet Freedom with the
freedom of the USG -to "surveille", "sabotage", and "subvert" via the

In the midst of these developments there has been a subtle shift in
presenting MSism as a framework for Internet Governance consultation
processes to now presenting it as the necessary model for Internet
Governance decision-making. Moreover it is understood that this
decision-making would be taking place not only within the fairly narrow
areas of the technical management of Internet functions but also into the
broader areas of Internet impact and the associated Internet related public
policy where the Internet's significance is both global and expanding

Most importantly the MS model is being presented as the model which would
replace the "outmoded" processes of democratic decision-making in these
spheres-in the terminology of some proponents, providing an "enhanced
post-democratic" model for global (Internet) policy making.

So what exactly is the "multistakeholder model"?

Well that isn't quite clear and no one (least of all the US State Department
which invoked the model 12 times in its one page presentation
<http://www.state.gov/e/eb/rls/prsrl/2014/221946.htm>  to the NetMundial
meeting in Brazil) has yet provided anything more than headline references
to the MS "model" or examples of what it might (but probably wouldn't) look
like given the likelihood of the need to contextualize individual instances
and practices.

But whatever it is, a key element is that policy (and other) decisions will
be made by and including all relevant "stakeholders". This will of course
include for example the major Internet corporations who get to promote their
"stakes" and make Internet policy through some sort of consensus process
where all the participants have an "equal" say and where rules governing
things like operational procedures, conflict of interest, modes and
structures of internal governance, rules of participation etc. etc. all seem
to be made up as they go along.

Clearly the major Internet corporations, the US government and their allies
in the technical and civil society communities are quite enthusiastic -
jointly working out things like Internet linked frameworks, principles and
rules (or not) for privacy and security, taxation, copyright etc. - is
pretty heady stuff. Whether the outcome in any sense is supportive of the
broad public interest or an Internet for the Common Good
<http://ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/1099> , or anything
beyond a set of rules and practices to promote the interests of and benefits
for those who are already showing the most returns from their current
"stake" in the Internet, well that isn't so clear.

What I think is clear though is that the MS model which is being presented,
is in fact the transformation of the neo-liberal economic model
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism>  which has resulted in such
devastation and human tragedy throughout the world
<http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=376>  into a new form of
"post-democratic" governance. (This connection between the a neo-liberal
economic model and multistakeholder governance is presented most clearly in
a document published by the Aspen Institute with numerous Internet luminary
co-authors and collaborators-"Toward A Single Global Digital Economy
ingle_Global_Digital_Economy_Aspen_IDEA_Project_0.pdf> ". The paper argues
for, outlines and celebrates the dominance of the Internet economy by the
US, US corporations and selected OECD allies and provides a plan of action
for the implementation of the MS model as the supportive governance

So for example. while there are clear and well-regarded opportunities for
participation by private sector stakeholders, technical stakeholders and
civil society stakeholders in the Internet policy forums (marketplace) there
is no one in the process ("stakeholder") with the task of representing the
"public interest". Thus no one has the responsibility for ensuring that the
decision -making processes are fair and not contaminated and that the range
of participants is sufficiently inclusive to ensure a legitimate and
socially equitable outcome. Nor in the multistakeholder model, as in the
neo-liberal economic model is there any external regulatory framework to
protect the general or public interest in the midst of the interactions and
outcomes resulting from the interactions between individual sectional

Similarly whereas in a normal democratic process (or a non-"liberalized"
marketplace) the underlying framework and expectations of participation
would be that the actors would be pursuing the "public interest" (with of
course, different interpretations of what that might mean) and that there
would be some basic social contract to provide a "social safety net
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_safety_net> " for all the individuals
and groups and particularly those least able to defend their own interests.
In the MS model there is no promotion of the public interest, rather somehow
the public interest is a (magical) bi-product/outcome of the confluence (or
consensus) processes of each individual stakeholder pursuing their
particular individual interest (stake). Government, may or may not be an
(equal) stakeholder in this model but in any case the overall intention is
to remove if possible government altogether (even as the protector of rights
and ensurer of equitable processes and outcomes).

This of course, has to be seen as an overall "privatization" of governance
where for example, major Internet corporations have an equal standing in
determining Internet governance matters in areas such as regulation (where
such is allowed to occur) alongside other stakeholders. In this model there
is no space for the Internet as a common good; or as a space or resource
equally available for all as a tool for general economic and social
betterment (including for example by the marginalized, the poor, those from
Less Developed Countries and even those are not currently Internet "users").
"Stakeholders" get to make and even enforce the rules and anyone who isn't
or can't be a "stakeholder"-well tough luck.

Similarly there is a refusal to accept even the possibility of a regulatory
framework for the Internet (the argument most forcefully articulated in the
course of the Internet Freedom campaign) or that the Internet might be of
sufficient importance as a fundamental platform for human action in this
period that it can no longer be seen as a domain of solely privatized action
and control.

The now highly visible damaging effects of neo-liberalism through its
promotion of the privatization of public services such as education and
health care in Less Developed (and Developed) Countries with the consequent
significant increases in non-schooling and deterioration in health among the
poor, the marginalized and the rural; in undermining the social contract and
social safety nets in Developed Countries with the associated increases in
child poverty, homelessness, and hunger; the "Washington Consensus
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Consensus> " and externally imposed
austerity regimes from which many countries around the world are only now
recovering from (and which the International Monetary Fund (IMG) itself has
recognized as a serious and highly destructive mistake); the actions of the
IMF and World Bank in insisting on privatization and deregulation and thus
decimating numerous local enterprises in favour of multi-nationals; and
overall providing the ideological drivers (and models) for a significant
social and economic attack globally on the poor and vulnerable is very well
known. This is the mode of governance which through multistakeholderism, its
counterpart in global (Internet) governance and beyond, is to be the basic
governance model for the Internet promoted quite unsurprisingly by the
corporate sector and the US Government but equally and astonishingly by wide
elements of civil society and the technical community as well.

The real significance and ultimate target for this neo-liberalization of
governance is of course, not with narrow technical Internet Governance
matters but rather with issues such as taxation of Internet enabled commerce
and ultimately of the need for revenue sharing with respect to Internet
related economic activity in a world where income inequality is growing at
an unprecedented rate on an Internet and global digitization platform. The
current context where global Internet giants such as Google or Amazon are
completely free to transfer/allocate revenues and costs anywhere they choose
within their multinational empires so as to minimize tax exposure is rapidly
reaching a critical point where some sort of intervention is likely. On the
longer term horizon the significance of both global and internal national
income polarization much of it having some linkage to digital technology and
the Internet will at some point need intervention and rebalancing if social
unrest is to be avoided.

In a multistakeholder governance regime of course, Internet giants such as
Google or Amazon will presumably be equal partners/stakeholders in the
determination of matters of Internet regulation, taxation, and the possible
allocation/reallocation of overall benefits i.e. those matters which are of
direct financial concern to themselves and their shareholders/owners. And
these determinations will be taking place in policy contexts where there are
no obvious champions/stakeholders representing the broad global public
interest. That such an arrangement is directly supportive of US and other
Developed Country interests and the interests of dominant Internet
corporations i.e. those most actively lobbying for the multistakeholder
model, is clearly not an accident.

Equally of course, the citizens of Less Developed Countries whose
governments lack the knowledge and often the resources to act as effective
stakeholders in MS processes; whose national Internet corporations are
either sub-units of global corporations or too weak to be effective in such
environments; and whose Civil Society organizations have been captured by
means of the cheap baubles of international travel, the flattery of
"participation" in discussions with Internet luminaries, along with the
crumbs of localized organizational benefits; will (as with the disadvantaged
populations in Developed Countries) be completely at the mercy of those in
the Developed Countries and in those small segments of their own countries
who have already achieved success in the global Internet sphere and stand to
benefit enormously in prestige and otherwise through the dominance of
multistakeholder governance processes.

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