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Internet governance back in the limelight

By Paul Budde - posted Monday, 14 April 2014

Issues are still not unravelled

In my special role as adviser to the UN Broadband Commission I reported extensively in 2013 on the WCIT-12 conference in Dubai.

Unfortunately the world disagreed on a way forward in relation to internet governance. However, despite all the grandstanding of the USA and its western allies, simply ignoring it and saying "there is no room for governments to be involved in internet governance" – will not make the issue go away.

Idealistically, I certainly agree with the notion that the internet's greatest gift to humanity is the ability to connect people, and when that happens everything will flow from there. The early history of the internet certainly proves that. But at the same time the world is a hostile place, containing terrorists, criminals, corrupt and evil governments, and unscrupulous companies and individuals. Whether we like it or not, to protect the incredibly valuable internet we do need to look after it. Unfortunately its free-flowing days are over.


The reality is that in one way or another nearly every country is already interfering in the internet – be it positively or negatively. On the positive side, for example – if it were not for the involvement of the US government in the early days of the internet (1960′s – 1996) we most certainly would not have the open internet that exists today. On the negative side, we see the effects of cybercrime, child pornography, terrorism, spying and so on. Most of these large-scale problems are international and will require some form of international cooperation to address them. Ignoring the need for this does not make those issues go away.

As mentioned in my earlier analyses; the root problem surrounding the lack of international will to address this is the unwillingness of the international community to split the issues relating to internet governance so that they can each be addressed independently, rather than mixing them all together.

The American obstacle

A key obstacle in all of this is the unique national telecommunications regime in the USA. Internet content services are classified as telecoms in their national legislation and regulating international telecoms issues would mean, in their eyes, regulating the internet – as in content – and they are totally opposed to this.

Since the regulatory changes in 1996, the internet and access to it are now by default intertwined. The FCC abandoned entirely the theory that there is a layered implementation and treated the Internet as a uniform, vertical information service that is unregulated.

Without effective wholesale competition, the telcos – who now call themselves ISPs – dominate the combined Internet/network access regime and can dictate the terms to content providers for using access to their network and as such they can control internet use/access (the Net Neutrality issue).


The rest of the world splits regulations between infrastructure and content, but in America the two are intertwined. Yet the fact that their stance on the relationship between the internet and telecommunications is unique in the world doesn't stop them from addressing the issue as though their position represents the global status quo. And they added fear to the debate, saying that including internet (access) in the international telecommunications regulations would lead to internet (content) control by countries such as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. In this way they were able to stifle any debate on the broader internet governance issues at WCIT-12 in Dubai.

Positive and negative government interference

The recent developments surrounding ICANN put a renewed focus on some of the more technical and self-regulatory issues of internet governance. Over the years there has been very little, if any, government involvement in relation to the engineering side of the internet. This has largely been left, with enormous success, in the hands of the global engineering communities, and there are no indications or proposals suggesting any change to that. The engineering community is right to be extremely vocal on keeping these elements government-independent.

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This article was first published on Budde Blog.

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About the Author

Paul Budde derives income from consulting to the telcommunications industry as in independent adviser. He has no shareholdings in the sector.

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