The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is a two-phase United Nations (UN) summit that was initiated in order to create an evolving multi-stakeholder platform aimed at addressing the issues raised by information and communication technologies (ICTs) through a structured and inclusive approach at the national, regional and international levels.
The two WSIS summits held in 2003 and 2005 were instrumental in adding momentum to international discussions concerning Internet governance.
The main participants in the WSIS were governments and governmental organisations, and it was therefore difficult for the Internet technical community to be directly involved. It was clear, however, that the outcome of the WSIS could have had a serious impact on the bottom-up, industry self-regulatory processes that have underpinned the Internet since its inception. The RIPE NCC and the other Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) therefore took an active role in the WSIS discussions and worked together to represent the needs of their members and the Internet community as a whole.
The RIPE NCC and the other RIRs were actively involved in the WSIS from the first phase of the summit in Switzerland (December 2003), through the PrepCom 1 in Tunisia (June 2004) and the regional meeting in Syria (November 2004).
They continued to represent the needs of their members and communities throughout 2005 at the PrepCom 2, held in Switzerland, the regional meetings in Ghana and Brazil and the second phase of the summit, held in Tunisia in November 2005.
A key outcome of the WSIS process was the founding of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The RIPE NCC and other RIRs have continued to contribute actively to the IGF, and to take part in the ongoing WSIS activities, including the annual WSIS Forum.
In 2015, the UN General Assembly undertook a review of the implementation of the WSIS outcomes. As part of this review, an intergovernmental process gathered stakeholder input that resulted in a draft paper. This paper was then discussed at a two-day high-level meeting of the General Assembly from 15-16 December 2015.
In July 2015, stakeholders were asked to provide input on the desired elements and content of a “non-paper” that was later published in August. This was used to inform development of the final draft paper that was discussed by the General Assembly in December. The RIRs provided joint input to the non-paper.
Following the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in November 2015, the RIPE NCC joined more than 100 Internet-related organisations and individuals in signing a Join Statement on WSIS+10. This statement emphasised the importance of an ongoing remit for the IGF, to retain a multistakeholder approach to Internet governance issues, and to focus on connecting those still unable to access the Internet.
The ten-year review of the WSIS concluded in December 2015 with a High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly, which produced the following Outcome Document:
In 2025, the UN General Assembly will perform a further review of the WSIS process to evaluate the progress made and identify obstacles and areas that need more attention. The WSIS Tunis Agenda was reaffirmed in the previously mentioned Outcome Document from the 2015 review (WSIS+10). However, there was some contention over the WSIS+10 Outcome Document: with regard to Internet governance, some UN member states argued that the Tunis Agenda needed to be updated, arguing that it should be more multilateral and less multistakeholder. The corresponding proposals were not adopted, and the WSIS+10 Outcome Document reiterated that, in the absence of a consensus, Internet governance should continue to follow the provisions set forth in the outcomes of the summits held in Geneva and Tunis.
In recent years, some UN member states have made new comments in favour of altering the multistakeholder approach to Internet governance processes. This means that some nations may use the WSIS+20 review process as a means to push for changes in the model, attempting to increase the influence of governments and/or try to replace the bottom-up and inclusive model, either partially or completely, with a multilateral one. Any of these scenarios may have implications not only for the RIPE NCC’s mission, but for the global Internet. This is because the multistakeholder approach ensures that, as the Internet grows, it remains single, interoperable, safe, stable, and resilient. It is a model that has allowed the Internet to flourish over decades, and this broad and inclusive approach also serves the global public interest.
The WSIS+20 review, taking place between now and late 2025, may be a source of significant risks – but it may also present opportunities, particularly in relation to the role of the IGF, the renewal of its mandate, and the future of the bottom-up and inclusive Internet governance processes at the UN level.