The year 2018 represents a tipping point for the Internet and its governance. Processes that have been evolving are now starting to mature. Policy decisions are needed. If Internet governance is consumed by inertia or controlled by the invisible hand of the market, the Internet is likely to fragment into numerous national and commercial Internet(s).
Geopolitical shifts, in particular, will affect how the Internet is governed. The Internet is vulnerable to the fragmentation of global society, which is likely to accelerate in response to the ongoing crisis of multilateralism, as it depends heavily on multilateral rules and standards dealing with telecommunications, trade, and finances. If this crisis leads to further restrictions in the movement of people, capital, and goods across national borders, the same is likely to happen with the digital economy, including the cross-border flow of data and services.
The first sign of a crisis in multilateralism in digital policy was the failure of the 5th UN Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) to reach consensus on a final report. Towards the end of 2017, the World Trade Organization (WTO) failed to agree on any mandate for e-commerce negotiations during the WTO Ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires.
Given the crisis of multilateralism, it will be all the more important to use divergence in order to create convergence. While interests in digital policy are now more closely defined, they vary considerably. There is a diversity of strengths and weaknesses among the major actors, which creates both complementarities and controversies.Yet, most actors have a vested interest in preserving a unified Internet on which convergence can be build.
More specifically, there are 10 areas of development that we will need to watch closely in 2018: the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and the role of data at the centre of digital politics, the digital politics of cybersecurity, digital trade and the Internet economy, courts as makers of digital rules, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies, content policy between countering extremism and fake news, net neutrality and the global impact of US regulations, encryption, and developments related to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).