Tech Policy Trends 2024: The Global South is the new epicentre of internet governance innovation

Tech Policy Trends 2024: The Global South is the new epicentre of internet governance innovation

Unserved and underserved communities are set to drive the future of connectivity as the internet continues to penetrate new markets. The rise of the Middle East as internet governance convenors will be a key issue in 2024, but can nations overcome the political sensitivities?

Internet eco-system evolution will be driven by demands from the Global South

Growth potential

The first offerings of top-level domain (TLD) names – .com, .edu, .gov, .mil, .org, and .net – were the drivers of the initially embryonic and then explosive growth of internet business use through the 1990s and 2000s. This was followed by the introduction of generic TLDs (gTLD), such as .aero, .asia, .biz, .cat, .info, .name, .post, .pro, .tel, and .xxx, as more businesses and organisations expanded their use of the internet. More recently, the growth of domain names, and indeed of the domain name industry, has been propelled by the introduction of internationalised domain names (IDNs) to support local use of the internet, and in particular local language use. This trend highlights the emergent dominance of the Global South, both in numeracy and now potentially in global rule setting.

Evidence of demand

The Broadband Commission’s 2023 State of Broadband report[1] supports these conclusions, stating that the global offline population declined by around 100 million people in 2022 to approximately 2.6 billion. Demand for connectivity has shifted to the under-connected Global South and from emerging to substantial and sustained demand. The report recommends policymakers take stock of the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, where connectivity’s pivotal role in everything from health to education to transactions was thrown into stark relief, as well as prioritising investing in digital public infrastructure. The report predicts that this investment will result in a tipping point in the “cost/return equation”, feeding GDP growth rather than following it.

Saudi Arabia, the centre for internet governance

A controversial host

2024 will be a turning point and a test for the maturity of internet governance as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is hosted by Saudi Arabia. There have been calls in some quarters to boycott the IGF or change the host country because of political objections.[2] Internet governance forums have traditionally been about creating a safe space for dialogue, discussion, and diversity in the online world, rather than requiring a consensus on ideology or being a referendum on a country’s political track record. The Global South is now set to test this uneasy balancing act.

Opportunities for dialogue

The 2024 IGF will be a litmus test of the community’s collective maturity, offering an opportunity to evolve its approach. The key question in an age of fragmentation is whether the community is ready. It may be easier to refuse and reject than to build trust. However, as the Global South’s voice grows, the emergent shift in demand and power needs to be recognised and respected. If the community is to continue, it must learn to grow together or risk the fragmentation of global internet norms and communities.

Internet governance discussions will continue to fragment

A balancing act

Internet governance platforms have generally coalesced in a number of key discussion forums. International forums, such as the IGF, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meetings, and RightsCon (to name a few), have been at pains to ensure Global South representation and inclusivity. In addition, Global South countries are active participants in these processes, be it through hosting events or the active participation of relevant stakeholders from civil society, academia, or the public sector. However, accommodating all voices will lead to louder demands that power no longer be concentrated in a few organisations, and with a few privileged individuals.

Internet governance mechanisms traditionally have structures in place to maintain a balance among stakeholders, ensuring representation for all persons who need, want, or should be part of the decision-making process, as well as seeking to prevent any inadvertent bias or unfair advantage to certain groups. This advantage – a core tenet of the multi-stakeholder approach – now needs to be revisited to be re-recognised by all.

In some instances, the solution to the current challenges may mean invoking a process of creative destruction, as has been the case in the past wherein internet governance systems were, of necessity, shifted from how they had been originally set up. In its original setup, the internet’s address book (IP addresses) was managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), care of two persons: Jon Postel and Joyce Reynolds. This highly limited decision-making approach eventually evolved, with IANA functions managed contractually and stewardship provided through ICANN, with the transition of core technical components of internet governance completed in 2016.[3]

Addressing different political weights

Moving forward, balances between developed countries and developing nations, which oftentimes will have different approaches towards internet governance, must be established. To achieve this, many organisations have taken a leaf from multilateral systems, setting up advisory committees such as ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC),[4] a group of different nations that advises ICANN on a consensus basis.

Creating a balance between stakeholders that manage the differences between political, economic, and technological powers is needed so that the Global South and its marginalised communities, however they are defined, are not left out of this process structurally. The list of various internet governance forums’ host countries over the years is a good example of how these platforms can structurally demonstrate the principles of inclusivity and equal opportunity.

[1] Access Partnership co-authored this year’s report as a Knowledge Partner:
[3] and
[4] group of different nations that advises ICANN on a consensus basis.

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