Internet Policy Formation in Latin America: Understanding the links between national, regional and global dynamics

Hernan Galperin of the Universidad de San Andrés and Carolina Aguerre, general manager of the LACTLD, discuss their ongoing research on the emergence of internet policy in Latin America.

Brazil is widely recognized as a global leader in the internet policy field. But what is going on with other countries in the region? Following the revelations about widespread network surveillance by security agencies, internet policy issues have become much more prominent in national policy agendas in Latin America. Governments from Mexico to Argentina have started initiatives to address surveillance, privacy, network neutrality, and many of the other complex issues in internet policy. What do these initiatives have in common? Are they guided by similar principles and incentives? Are the national policy dynamics similar? Are there similar configurations of policy actors?

In this research project we seek to understand the incentives and dynamics of the emerging internet policy field in Argentina, Mexico and Costa Rica. Although internet governance has been persistently in the national agenda of Brazil – particularly after the creation of the CGI in 1995, it was until very recently a relatively obscure topic in most national policy agendas in Latin America.  As such, debates were limited to specialized government agencies, a few academics and a handful of NGOs. Today, in the post-Snowden scenario internet governance debates reach the highest policy levels and are prominently covered by the general media. The NETmundial event is a case in point: not only was it organized by Brazil but it was attended by delegations from the overwhelming majority of Latin American countries, most of them headed by ministers or secretaries of state.

In this new scenario, these shifts are perceived by national players as a chance to recalibrate their agendas with respect to internet policy and governance.  Under these circumstances, there is an emerging trend in Latin America to create internet governance initiatives at the domestic level. For example, Argentina created the Comisión Argentina de Políticas de Internet (CAPI), a high-level commission charged with making policy recommendations and increasing Argentina’s participation in global internet policy fora last April, before NETmundial. Costa Rica is structuring a multistakeholder internet committee, composed by representatives from government agencies, academia and technical community organizations and Mexico has reformed its telecommunications sector – including the internet. But other initiatives are underway in Colombia too.

The recent prominence of internet governance debates in national policy agendas in Latin America raises several questions. What are the institutional building blocks for these debates? Which stakeholders are being represented and how? To what extent are institutional models from other countries (e.g., the Brazilian multistakeholder model) being replicated? How are these domestic debates articulating with global internet policy discussions and its institutions (IGF, WSIS, ITU, ICANN, etc.)? What are the mechanisms for policy coordination within the region? Have these mechanisms been effective? How can they be improved in order to strengthen Latin American voices in the global internet governance debate?

This research project is based on the comparative case study approach, in the tradition of comparative policy research. It considers Argentina, Costa Rica, and Mexico where internet governance initiatives have been recently launched and compares their institutionalization process, their resulting policy dynamics and emerging outcomes.  Brazil is included in the analysis as a benchmark case, given the prominent role it has played in internet governance debates.

We had to work around the selection of case studies so that they respond to both empirical and theoretical concerns, with a “causes-of-effects approach” in order to inquire into the specificity of these arrangements and their processes. Argentina is a regional leader in internet infrastructure development and adoption, and yet its presence in global internet debates has so far not corresponded with the national patterns of adoption, partly due to the lack of a coordination mechanism articulating the visions and interests of different stakeholders. The recently announced “CAPI” internet governance initiative attempts to raise its voice in global debates, but it is yet unclear whether it will achieve the necessary institutionalization. The case of Mexico – the second largest economy and market – is somewhat similar, although its initiative comes as part of a much larger reform package that seeks to unlock competition and diversity in its telecommunications and media industries, while at the same time it is addressing specific internet governance issues with the initiative “Diálogos de Gobernanza de Internet.” Costa Rica adds the perspective of a small country which nonetheless is considered a regional leader in several internet-related initiatives (e.g., IT education and training), as well as being one of the most politically defined countries in the region regarding a commitment with the principle of multistakeholder governance: it was one of the five countries in the Latin American region who did not sign WCIT in 2012 due to its concern with internet policy and governance.  Additionally, together with Brazil, it is the only other government from LAC that will participate in the launch of the “NETmundial Initiative” next 27 August at the World Economic Forum.

Will other experiences in Latin America prove to be as successful as the Brazilian case in obtaining a prominent voice in the internet governance arena? To what extent is this experience replicable in other countries? Are other countries following the multistakeolder model?  We will keep you posted with further developments of this research.


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