About the CITI Seminars on Global Digital Governance


Global digital governance concerns the “rules of the game” set by states and stakeholders for digital communication/information networks and related technologies. It encompasses post-war rule systems such as those for telecommunications; institutions and procedures created since the 1980s for Internet governance; and current efforts to establish shared rules for data, artificial intelligence, social media, interstate cyber-conflict and other issues raised by emerging technologies.  The purpose of this new webinar series is to foster expert dialogue on the analytical and policy issues that continually arise across the heatedly contested and complex institutional ecosystem of global digital governance.  The series seeks to build on the sort of debates that occur around multistakeholder Internet governance processes but which often go dim between international meetings and negotiations.
Each session begins with a roundtable discussion among a panel of leading analysts and practitioners, which is followed by open discussion among all attendees.  The sessions will be held monthly during university semesters at 11:00-12:30 (New York time). They are organized and moderated by Dr. William J. Drake, Director of International Studies at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (www.williamdrake.org).

Social Media and International Governance: The UNESCO Guidelines for Regulating Digital Platforms (April 26, 2023)

Real time text transcript:  https://otter.ai/u/7msJLBwTSwjC9FftMTqGzH_rFxI?tab=summary

The many issues raised by social media platforms have stimulated calls for new governance mechanisms.  Some platforms have responded by establishing self-governance systems like oversight boards, and some governments and regional bodies like the European Union have responded with laws and regulations, in particular for the largest platforms. At the multilateral level several initiatives are underway, in particular the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) effort to develop Guidelines for Regulating Digital Platforms.  The Guidelines are intended to promote regulations that both support freedom of expression and deal with content that is illegal and risks harm to democracy and human rights. A draft was debated at UNESCO’s February 2023 Internet for Trust conference

In the course of this process, stakeholders have raised a wide range of concerns.  Some have argued that:

  • The need for UN-created guidelines has not been demonstrated;
  • The process has been inadequately inclusive and transparent;
  • The scope of entities covered and the respective roles and responsibilities of relevant actors are unclear;
  • The intended creation of regulatory agencies and frameworks and their treatment of potentially harmful content are problematic;
  • The inattention to competition policy, privacy and data protection, and business models based on data harvesting is severely limiting;
  • Above all, that the guidelines, despite good intentions, could provide international legitimacy and support for nondemocratic governments seeking to penalize and suppress a wide variety of speech.

This webinar assembles a panel of leading expert participants in the UNESCO debate and related discussions.  The group will assess the driving issues and interests, negotiation dynamics, potential outcomes and larger digital governance implications.

As always, the panelists’ conversation will be followed by an extensive and open dialogue among all participants.


Eli Noam is Paul Garrett Professor of Public Policy and Business Responsibility, Professor of Finance and Economics, emeritus, and the Director of the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information

Moderator and Organizer

William J. Drake is Director of International Studies at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information and Adjunct Professor, Columbia Business School


Alison Gillwald is the Executive Director of Research ICT Africa (RIA), a digital policy and regulatory think-tank based in South Africa. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Cape Town’s Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance.  (South Africa)

David Kaye is Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Justice Clinic at the University of California, Irvine. He is also Chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Network Initiative, a multistakeholder initiative that brings together 85 leading businesses, NGOs, and academics.  From 2014 to 2020, he served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. (USA)  

Laura O’Brien is Senior UN Advocacy Officer at Access Now, an NGO that advocates for the digital civil rights and organizes the annual RightsCon Convention. Previously, Laura engaged in strategic litigation support, including at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and for human rights organizations, clinics, and experts including two U.N. Special Rapporteurs.  (USA)

Fair Share or an Internet Tax? The EU Telcos vs. 'Big Content' Debate and its Global Implications. (March 23, 2023)

Real Time Text Transcript: https://otter.ai/u/xGdWHd4dSsJZ1f7Fz0v4FIdryNY 

The peering and transit model of interconnection has been a key building block for the Internet’s spectacular growth. But over the past decade, the major European telecommunications carriers have sought to move the EU toward a system under which the major content suppliers would be required to pay them volume-based fees for delivering content to their customers. The telcos argue that accommodating today’s explosive growth in network usage, especially for video on demand, requires broadband investments that they cannot afford to make without receiving mandatory payments from ‘Big Content’ originators. Accordingly, they have pushed at both the multilateral and regional levels for legally required ‘fair compensation’ by these originators for the use of their networks. The European Commission has welcomed this proposal in the context of its far-reaching Digital Agenda that has emphasized industrial policy and the regulation of US-based tech giants in the name of building Europe’s ‘digital sovereignty.’ In time, such fees also could target emerging data-intensive domains like the metaverse.

In response, the European telecom regulators and some other governmental entities, corporate suppliers and users, industry associations, the Internet technical community, civil society organizations, and others have mobilized against the telcos’ proposal. The critics argue that the proposal constitutes a Sending-Party-Network-Pays (SPNP) system that is contrary to the traditional peering model; content providers already invest heavily in infrastructure build-outs and the telcos are already adequately compensated by their customers; the mandated compensation could negatively affect many actors beyond Big Content; the proposal is contrary to network neutrality and would require further regulations that could favor incumbent carriers; and that an EU shift to SPNP could ripple across the global Internet. Amidst this heated debate over whether the telco proposal constitutes ‘fair compensation’ or rather an ‘Internet Traffic Tax,’ the EC is running until May 19 an online open consultation on electronic infrastructure in advance of considering legislation.

This webinar, by the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information, assembles a panel of leading expert participants in the raging debate. The group will lay out the merits of the respective arguments; assess the compatibility of SPNP with other policy frameworks and objectives; discuss alternative options for funding broadband rollouts and digital transformation; and in particular, consider the potential implications of EU adoption for the global Internet environment and digital governance.

As always, the panelists’ conversation will be followed by an open dialogue among all participants.


Eli Noam, Paul Garrett Professor, Emeritus, and Director of the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information


William J. Drake, Director of International Studies at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information

Roundtable Panelists

Rudolf van der Berg is a Partner at Stratix Consulting. Previously, he was a regulatory affairs manager at Tele2, a senior policy advisor at the OECD, a management consultant at Logica Management Consulting, and a policy manager at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. (Netherlands)

Michael Kende is a Senior Advisor for Analysys Mason consulting and a digital development specialist with the World Bank Group. Previously he was the Chief Economist at the Internet Society, and a Visiting Lecturer at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. (Switzerland)

Maarit Palovirta is the Senior Director for Regulatory Affairs at the European Telecommunications Network Operators'​ Association, ETNO. Previously she held manager roles at the Internet Society and Cisco Systems and worked in well-known Brussels based consultancies. (Belgium)


ICANN Independence, Seven Years On (February 23, 2023)

In 2023, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) celebrates the 25th anniversary of its founding and the 7th anniversary of its transition to independence from the United States government.  The 2016 transition ended the contract under which ICANN performed the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions subject to US government stewardship; created a free-standing organization that is accountable primarily to its multistakeholder community; and constituted a significant change in the international regime for Internet names and numbers.  In light of its dual anniversaries, it is timely to take stock of ICANN’s progress as a unique global governance mechanism that manages functions essential to the global digital economy and society.

This webinar takes up the challenge by assembling a panel of leading experts who have been deeply involved in ICANN processes.  The group will consider such questions as: the transition’s geopolitical, interest group, and institutional consequences; the implementation of ICANN’s accountability framework and of Public Technical Identifiers, the ICANN affiliate created to manage the IANA functions (most notably coordination of the Internet's unique identifiers); the challenges ICANN and its community have faced in responding to new pressures from technological change, industry demands, and government policies; ICANN’s role and engagement in the wider global Internet governance ecosystem; and the lessons of its experience for the future of multistakeholder cooperation in global Internet and digital governance.


William J. Drake, Director of International Studies at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information

Roundtable Panelists

Olga Cavalli, National Director of Cybersecurity in the Chief of Cabinet of the President of Argentina, and former Undersecretary of Information Technology and advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Argentina)

James Gannon, Chair of the Board of Directors of Public Technical Identifiers, and Vice President of Quality, Trust & Safety at the PharmaLedger Association (Ireland)

Milton Mueller, Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Public Policy, and Director of the School's Internet Governance Project (USA)

Realtime Text: https://otter.ai/u/kyA3D4GkEyuwHeQsDCH7vwdIr8k 

Whither the Internet Governance Forum? (January 19, 2023)​​​

Since its inauguration in 2006, the UN’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has become a key component of the institutional ecosystem of global Internet governance.  But while the annual meetings and intersessional activities generally enjoy strong support from their participants, there continues to be heated debate as to whether the IGF is living up to potential and fulfilling the mandate given it by the UN’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).  For example, many states and stakeholders are content to have the IGF serve as a non-negotiation space for inclusive multistakeholder dialogue and an incubator or platform for bottom-up initiatives on capacity building and norm development. But many others insist that the IGF must do more to attract engagement from developing country governments and to produce “concrete outcomes” that can help tackle the growing range of policy challenges raised by the Internet and advanced technologies. And in addition to these and other long-standing points of contention, there are new debates about whether the IGF should serve as a vehicle for a broadened range of global digital cooperation efforts, as well as its role and prospects in light of the UN’s Global Digital Compact initiative and the pending WSIS +20 review.

Convened in the wake of the IGF’s meeting in Addis Ababa, this webinar brings together a panel of experts who have been closely involved in the IGF’s organization and activities from its beginning.   The group will consider such questions as the IGF’s historical evolution and reform, relationship with the UN system, fit with the contending interests and visions of states and stakeholders, substantive and procedural impacts on Internet governance, outcomes, and future prospects.  As always, the panelists’ conversation will be followed by an open dialogue among all participants.


William J. Drake, Director of International Studies at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information

Roundtable Panelists

Raúl Echeberría, Executive Director of ALAI, the Latinamerican Internet Association (Uruguay)

Anriette Esterhuysen, Senior Advisor for Internet Governance, the Association for Progressive Communications (South Africa)

Adam Peake, Senior Manager for Civil Society Engagement, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (the Netherlands)

Flávio Rech Wagner,  Emeritus Professor in the Institute of Informatics, the University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre (Brazil)

Realtime Text: https://otter.ai/u/As13JAff4VGO3ljgHujxeG-YrOg


Internet Fragmentation, Reconsidered (November 17th, 2022)

What exactly does “Internet fragmentation” really mean, and how does the way we define and conceptualize the term affect the lines of action undertaken in response?  A diversity of views is evident in the burgeoning global debate and growing number of pronouncements by states and stakeholders on Internet fragmentation.    For example, some participants in the debates take a broad approach and see fragmentation as having technical, commercial and governmental sources and forms, which implies that actions may be needed in each of those domains. Others take a narrow approach that equates fragmentation with only government policy, which means the only attention needed is to that domain.  Some participants see fragmentation as a continuously present condition that varies in form, intensity and impact over time and across domains of activity and the protocol stack, while others see it more in a totalized and binary manner – either the Internet is structurally fragmented at the root, or it is not fragmented at all. Some participants believe that mere differences in public policy orientation across countries or regions mean we now have multiple incompatible Internets, while others counter that such differences are simply a matter of there being one Internet with different zones of governance.  And some participants believe fragmentation is a threat that requires concerted responses and new strategies, while others see it as a matter of difficulties that can be overcome, or even as a natural and unproblematic phenomenon.  And so on --- there are many sources of difference in perspective about how fragmentation is understood and what sorts of actions by whom should be taken in consequence.

This webinar seeks to help advance our thinking about these foundational questions.  A panel of leading analysts and practitioners in the global Internet governance environment will discuss such topics as the nature, sources, forms, and consequences of Internet fragmentation, as well as the responses pursued by governments and stakeholders to date and going forward. 

(On November 28 at 9:00 EDT / 14:00 UTC a follow-up session on these issues will be held as part of the UN’s annual Internet Governance Forum meeting in Addis Abada, where fragmentation will be an overarching thematic issue.   https://intgovforum.org/en/content/igf-2022-day-0-event-68-understanding-internet-fragmentation-concepts-and-their)

William J. Drake, Director of International Studies at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information 
Roundtable Panelists
Vinton G. Cerf, Vice President and chief Internet evangelist, Google (USA)
Eli M. Noam, Director, Columbia Institute for Tele-Information and Professor of Finance and Economics, Columbia Business School
Andrew Sullivan, President and CEO of the Internet Society (Canada)
Tatiana Tropina, Assistant Professor in Cybersecurity Governance, Institute of Security and Global Affairs, Leiden University, Netherlands (Netherlands)
Related reading:
William J. Drake, Vinton G. Cerf, and Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Internet Fragmentation: An Overview. The World Economic Forum, January 2016.  
The Internet Society, Protecting the Internet 
Eli M. Noam, “Towards a Federated Internet”, InterMEDIA, vol. 41, no. 4, 2013.

The ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference and Internet Governance (October 19th, 2022)

On September 29 in Bucharest, delegates to the Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) elected Doreen Bogdan-Martin to serve as the organization’s first female Secretary-General.  In the run-up to the conference, many media outlets, think tanks and pundits characterized the election contest between a US and a Russian candidate as an epochal battle between good and evil that would somehow determine whether the Internet would be open or closed, democratic or controlled by dictators. Little attention has been given to significant Internet-related policy decisions that are being negotiated during the three-week conference, an event that takes place every four years.  On some of these issues, the competing visions for the Internet of democracies and authoritarian regimes do loom large, but there are many other divisions—between proponents of state-led vs. industry-led development, the global North and South, regions, industry coalitions, and so on—that also will shape the resulting treaty instruments.

This webinar will convene just five days after the ITU Plenipotentiary ends. It will bring together expert attendees and close observers to analyze the conference’s potential implications for the Internet and its global governance.  Against the backdrop of the long-standing geopolitical tensions between multistakeholder vs. multilateral as well as open vs. closed governance models, the webinar will assess the ITU’s debates and negotiations on such issues as: the Internet resolutions, the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty, the follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society, the work of the Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy, cybersecurity, the treatment of “over the top” services and Internet traffic exchange, the Chinese proposal for a “new Internet Protocol,” and more.


William J. Drake, Director of International Studies at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information

Roundtable Panelists
Samantha Dickinson 
Internet Governance Consultant and Writer (Australia)
Nermine El Saadany 
Regional Vice President, MENA Region, The Internet Society (Egypt)
Wolfgang Kleinwaechter
Professor Emeritus, International Communciation Policy and Regulation, University of Aarhus (Germany)