No One Rules the Net, Not Yet
By Dick Kaser
"The Internet has evolved in a way that ensures no one person or entity is
'in charge.'"The Internet Society
"Internet governance." This was the dark horse of last year's World Summit
on the Information Society (WSIS), when at the midnight hour it emerged from
a bevy of issues to almost derail the adoption of the summit's declaration
of principles and action plan.
In a quick sidestep, WSIS Phase I remanded the matter to the United Nations.
Now as preparations begin for Phase II of the World Summit (to be held in
November 2005 in Tunis), the Internet governance issue has already become a
front-runner on the fast track.
What makes it so hot? Everything!
Though some would dismiss Internet governance as just a technical discussion
about infrastructure and backbone, it has the potential to be much, much more.
"Like one of those Russian nested toys," observed a team of researchers at
Syracuse University, "we have opened the WSIS Phase I egg to find inside an
Internet governance egg" (http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/forum/intgov04/contributions/mueller-resentation.pdf).
The myriad social issues that might surface in this discussion concern the
information community too: copyright and trademark protection, security, privacy,
fair use, and spam control. The question is: Do we need a little tighter control
over the Net to achieve our goals for these things?
The entire inventory of public policy issues is so large and so broad that
experts are putting forward discussion papers on how to organize the information
so that it can be processed in a reasonable amount of time. (See The Taxonomy
of Internet Governance at http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/forum/intgov04/
Though there have been some ramp-up discussions, including some of the papers
I've noted here, the talks will officially begin in earnest during the next
few months. In fact, as we go to press, the WSIS-mandated, U.N.-appointed Working
Group on Internet Governance is holding its kickoff meeting. On the group's
agenda is the task of defining itself.
Whatever its working framework turns out to be, WSIS Phase I has instructed
it to define what the term "Internet governance" shall mean in the context
of this discussion, identify the public policy issues that need to be addressed,
and get the various stakeholders (including governments) to agree on what their
role should rightly be in all of thisall by next July.
Wow! And I thought my boss gave me tough assignments.
Which parts of the Internet need to be governed? Can those parts be governed
effectively with agencies that already exist? Does an official international
body actually need to be invented to supervise the Net? And if so, for what
With issues like these on the table, I say hold onto your packet switches,
my friends. The ether's about to explode with opinions on this subject. For
it won't just be the United Nations that hashes this outit will be the
international Internet community.
So what do you think? Is that which flourished on its own up till now due
for proper management? And if so, what, when, where, how, and by whom?
Monitor official developments at http://www.itu.int/wsis/preparatory2/wgig/background.html.
Dick Kaser is Information Today, Inc.'s vice president of
content. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.