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The WGIG Report, part deux

This is part two of a post started yesterday. (See "The WGIG should embrace English.

This is part two of a post started yesterday. (See "The WGIG should embrace English.") It's a response to a report recently released by the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), a UN-inspired task force with a typical UN propensity for acronym generation.

As my objections are somewhat free-form, I shall organize them accordingly. To summarize, it's fairly clear that the WGIG's goal is to put the UN in the Internet's driver's seat. Unfortunately, I don't think the WGIG report makes the least case for such a reorganization.

1. The United States has screwed up the Internet
That, at least, is what one would be led to conclude if one had nothing to go on but the WGIG report. Of course, as is the tendency with hyper-diplomatic UN documents, the report never said that outright. However, the United States was mentioned several times in the course of the document, mostly in relation to areas of internet governance which needed improvement.

Regarding Administration of the root zone files and system, there is Unilateral control by the United States Government. Model 1 in a list of proposed models for Internet Governance emphasizes the importance of take(ing) over the functions relating to international Internet governance currently performed by the Department of Commerce of the United States Government. In a document that was designed to highlight problems in internet governance, the US control is singled out as a problem which needs fixing.

That's all well and good...provided that there is some indication that America has mismanaged certain aspects of Internet governance. Unfortunately, the report doesn't suggest that there has been such a failure, unless American control of ICANN can somehow be blamed for SPAM and the presence of internet-related security issues. They just note that certain critical aspects of Internet infrastructure are controlled by entities based in the United States. No claim as to mismanagement is made.

That's odd for a document that aims to propose better ways to manage a global technical infrastructure.  If I were to suggest that Company A no longer be the source of a particular software solution, I would be required to justify that to my boss by giving clear reasons why change is necessary.

Where is the evidence of United States mismanagement of the Internet (an Internet, let's be fair, that was mostly developed and popularized by the United States, hence the legacy of control over the root domain structure)? Are there REASONS which justify change, or is the fact that the United States controls ICANN enough justification by itself?

Imagine for a moment the reaction if ICANN were based in Japan. There would be objections, but mostly from Japan's Asian neighbors. Now, imagine ICANN was in Germany. There'd be fewer objections, to be sure, than Japan. Move ICANN now to Hungary. Perhaps a few of its jealous neighbors might object, but I don't imagine it would meet with the same hue and cry that a US-based ICANN encounters. Now imagine ICANN was based in Madagascar.

People would only object to an ICANN based in Madagascar if they were screwing it up. The same standard should apply to an American ICANN.  Give me evidence that America has mismanaged the root domain structure.  Don't just proclaim the merits of an "inclusive global governance system" without showing how that inclusive system would be better than what went before.

2. Government comes first
The WGIG's proposals are, in a nutshell, a plan for placing government in the Internet's drivers seat. As an excerpt from one of their proposed models for Internet governance states:

For the issues dealt with in this body, the governmental component will take a leading role. The private sector and civil society will participate in an advisory capacity.

Why on earth would we think that would work any better than government management of the automobile industry?

Consider the history of the Internet. Though government (specifically, the United States Government) clearly played a role in the creation of core technologies, I doubt if government has had much influence on the Internet since the mid-80s. It is private industry, and the companies who have pursued financial gain on a global Internet, that have made the Internet what it is today. Government mandates weren't necessary to force the world to use TCP/IP, just good old-fashioned self-interest that responds to the clear economic benefits of a global standard.

I think the emphasis on government as the backbone of proper Internet governance is a reflection of the composition of the body which provided the WGIG with its mandate. The UN is a talking shop for governments, and any group assembled by the UN is likely to promote the merits of government-organized talking shops.

3. All governments shall have equal weight in Internet governance issues
That was certainly the founding principle of the League of Nations, predecessor to the United Nations. Unfortunately, that principle quickly collapsed in the face of realpolitik. Different nations have disproportionate levels of power, and idealist attempts to pretend otherwise was a recipe for failure.

It's a simple fact that some nations use the Internet more than others. By rights, those nations should have more influence into the direction of the Internet than others. I don't give my friends equal say in use of my car, even though they do on occasion drive it. A strictly egalitarian approach to internet governance isn't any more desirable.

This speaks to the desirability of minimizing the role governments play in matters of Internet governance, in favor of private industry. As the WGIG report notes, the future growth of the Internet is expected to be mainly in developing countries (not surprising, as developing nations are starting from a much lower base). An emphasis on private industry would give developing countries more influence naturally, as growing numbers of citizens in those countries use the internet (market clout, to which Western companies will respond) and local companies start to  cast longer shadows on a global stage.

What has given South Korea more influence in technology matters, more UN-sponsored groups in which they are given equal say, or the growth of Samsung and other Korean electronics giants?


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