Sometimes you get what you are asking for. And this seems to be one of those occasions… and the US government can give itself a pat on the back for having listened to other stakeholder opinions.
For years the world of Internet governance has been seen as its own special corner of the technosphere, full of arcane acronyms and quiet power deals. Despite efforts to make ICANN and the broader Internet community more transparent and user-friendly, many observers, including many African governments, still saw the stage as too much of an insider’s game—with the ultimate insider being the US Department of Commerce. However, with the announcement of new “Affirmation” between DOC and ICANN, it seems a new day is dawning, one full of what should be good news for Africa and emerging markets.
Notwithstanding its strange name (what is an “Affirmation” after all, when you’re talking about new policy?), there’s a lot to like in the announcement for both businesses and governments in emerging markets smile. The Affirmation talks about the need to move forward with Internationalized Domain Names, a major focus of the Arabic-speaking northern tier of the continent. It re-emphasizes the crucial private sector role in running the net, something that should give confidence to African investors and company owners anxious to do more on line and keep the net open for business. It expands the reporting from ICANN, so that now key information from the organization will be open to governments around the world, not just the US, making the governance mechanisms accountable to all governments. And in some ways most stunningly, it gives those governments that do participate in ICANN a much meatier role, complete with actions and powers to influence policy—as opposed to the simple “advisory” powers in earlier agreements.
Finally and perhaps most importantly in our minds, the Affirmation walks away from the very concept of a “report card”, with short term objectives and a short term view. The Affirmation is an agreement in perpetuity, one that specifically addresses the concerns of the international community (notwithstanding the opt-out clause at the end, which seemed out of keeping with the intent and tone of the rest of the document). This is crucial because it is the long term stability and growth of the net—and both are key—that we are all after.
Now the challenge is to us. For years emerging markets members of the Internet governance community have been urging ICANN and the US government to take steps, steps just like these. ICANN has signaled a real willingness to focus to the needs and issues of the next billion users, on IDNs, on stability and on more and better governance. One can only hope that African governments and private sector representatives alike will take up this new opportunity and engage more deeply than ever before. After all the net should belong to all, even Africa.
This post was co-authored with Vika Mpisane, Chairman of AFTLD and General Manager of the .za Domain Name Authority