You’re hearing a lot about the upcoming Brazil Conference on the Future of Internet Governance. Trying to make sense of it? A new paper by IGP’s Milton Mueller and Ben Wagner of the Center for Global Communication Studies analyzes what it might mean for the future of global Internet governance.

Entitled Finding a Formula for Brazil: Representation and Legitimacy in Internet governance, the paper begins by examining how the Brazil-ICANN initiative alters the political alignment of actors in the Internet world. Next, it places these developments into a longer historical context, showing how it echoes recurring attempts to develop legitimacy and principles for Internet governance over the past fifteen years. Then it applies critical political analysis to the process of organizing and managing the summit itself. The paper is especially concerned with the representational formulae and procedural arrangements that will be used at the summit meeting and their impact on the legitimacy of the outcome. After exploring these arrangements, the paper makes prognoses about impacts and outcomes of the meeting in Brazil.

The provocative paper concludes that “The Brazil Conference can be most concisely described as a way of taking up the unfinished business of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Stakeholder roles, the US control of the IANA contract, and the demand for ‘globally applicable public policy principles’ all constituted focal points of the 2003-2005 World Summit.” The paper notes that the Summit outcomes, with their calls for “enhanced cooperation” and the creation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), pretended to resolve basic disagreements over how global Internet governance should take place, but subsequent events proved that there really was no consensus. The need for the Brazil meeting, therefore, “speaks to the failure of the WSIS Tunis Agenda and its spawn, the Internet Governance Forum. Both of them, in other words, have failed to establish stable political bargains upon which a lasting international regime for Internet governance can be based.”

The University Of Pennsylvania Annenberg School’s Center for Global Communication Studies is a newcomer to the global Internet governance debates but its Director, Professor Monroe Price, has a long and very distinguished record in the study of comparative media law and policy. CGCS added Wagner to its staff to spearhead its Internet Policy Observatory. A recent graduate of the European Institute’s doctoral program, Wagner wrote his thesis on the globalized governance of freedom of expression on the Internet via private intermediaries and has also explored the use of surveillance technologies by, and the export of such technology to, authoritarian regimes.

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