The WGIG Report, part deux

The WGIG Report, part deux

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

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TOPICS: Browser
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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?

Topic: Browser

John Carroll

About John Carroll

John Carroll has delivered his opinion on ZDNet since the last millennium. Since May 2008, he is no longer a Microsoft employee. He is currently working at a unified messaging-related startup.

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9 comments
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  • Preaching -> Choir

    The UN can have the internet when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers . . .
    Roger Ramjet
  • UN should stay the Tartarus away from the Internet...

    ...but so should have the US of A. I don't know the perfect solution. However, I think ICANN does an alright job for now. From what little I know of it, I think it does a good job of dealing with competing values of the different interests. I also think it was a negative move for the US to have closed its grip around it like it did, though.

    Who should also keep their slimy grubby paws from the internet? Your 'industry' people. I say let the idealistic academic do-nothings run it. They are by far the least likely to totally screw it up for their own twisted goals. At least in my opinion, which could be wrong. ;)
    Zinoron
    • Re: UN

      [i]...but so should have the US of A.[/i]

      Well, truth be told, the US [b]built[/b] the internet, at least in its original manifestation. It is now global, to be sure, and America can no more say they own it than Brits can say they own the English language.

      Still, there are reasons why ICANN is in America, and it has everything to do with the fact that the Internet started there. I'm open to the notion of changing that arrangement, provided someone explains to me why it's necessary (as opposed to assuming, as the report does, that stating that the UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT controls ICANN (which is a stretch) is enough to trump all rational discourse).
      John Carroll
      • Because...

        ...I don't trust any government, and particularly our own as of late, to run the Internet that is in anyway competent. Also, there is the interest of portraying a better world image of the US by playing nice about it. We ruffle a lot of feathers by being hamfisted like we have been. Perhaps it is time to smooth those feathers over? But to give it up to the UN is a mistake, as well, in my opinion. Or that Industry group that wants it, I forget it's particular acronym.
        Zinoron
  • If it aint broke don't fix it

    Reasonable enough sentiments to operate under. For me the question becomes "What happens if it does break?"

    John you are likely right is saying that there seems to be no compelling evidence of misuse that would require a change of Internet governance - but is that the correct criteria by which to determine if change is desireable?

    I keep thinking in terms of my own business - do we change in reaction to previous events? - or should we change in anticipation of them?

    For most businesses it is a mixture of both and there is no hard and fast rule as to which impetus of change will apply.

    The interesting part when it comes to the Internet is the impact that it has globally. Truely the phrase [i]no man is an island - entire unto himself[/i] has never been more true than it is today. The decisions of one can affect the lives of many (you can make your own guesses as to perfect examples of that recently) and when the one is a genuinely powerful nation - the decisions can then have equally powerful ramifications.

    I don;t know that the position put forward by WGIG is the right one either and, as yet, it would not be my choice.

    Were I to have a choice I would like to see a greater level of decentralisation so that policital agendas in [b]any[/b] nation cannot have too wide an impact.

    Currently, I believe, there are only 3 root servers outside the continental United States. A good first step in my view would be to increase that number 10-fold and spread them as widely as possible.

    We are all on this mudball together and I trust your ability to steer the ship as much as you trust mine. ;)
    Dave F_z
  • UN-ternet

    The UN is trying to gain control of the internet for several reasons, some of which may have some merit (in a way)
    1. By hosting and being in charge of the internet, it makes it a target of terrorists, since it is a US controlled interest, and we all know what the terrorists think of those. By having a neutral country (or countries) have root servers etc, we are spreading the resources around, creating redundancy, and eliminating target value, since the terrorists will once again be confronting the world community, instead of the US.
    2. The internet is tired and old, the dns system is riddled with insecurity, and by taking (hopefully buying) the old car, it will make room for a new car in the driveway, paving the way for a mo' better internet(or whatever monikker we come up with this time)
    3. Back to old rivalries, letting the other kids play with your toys is always nice, since you wind up having a chance to play with theirs, and since this thing is non-profit anyway, let's find a better place to put our resources, and have fun poking fun at the french or whoever inherits the mess. I for one am for taking LESS of a leadership role in the world if we can, and as Teddy Rosevelt said "walking softly and carrying a big stick".

    lets move on from the trainwreck, focus on the future, and create something new and worthy of THIS century, instead of living the glory days of the last. Learning how to "play nice" is a valuable lesson for a society doomed to domination by other larger societies (think china) during the coming century.
    pesky_z
  • I thought the root servers were for the US only..

    Isn't each country supposed to maintain their own servers for their own country code? If each country controls their own DNS system, then they should be able to do what they want. The only thing they would have to worry about is when communicating with another system.

    You see the same problem in newsgroups. People from other countries flooding our groups because they either don't know about their own, or they have so royally screwed them up that they are unusable.
    Patrick Jones
  • UN_ternet interference

    Everytime a government entity gets involved in anything, it ceases to function properly. I think the UN should just leave the Internet alone and let it evolve on its own and it will. When developing countries have the resources and the people have the expendable income to be on the internet,then they will also become a part of the Internet community.

    Just leave it alone and it will grow to include everyone.

    I think they should be working on a solution to stopping hackers and those outside the US that pollute the internet with dangerous software that costs everyone time and money to get rid of or erase.

    It looks like they have their priorities all messed up, which is usual for a governement entity.

    LN
    lnark@...
  • UN baggage would ruin Internet

    Governments everywhere now want to harness the Internet for distributing propaganda, or are planning to turn it into their own private piggy bank (read: taxes). Do you seriously believe the UN will be anything but a co-conspiritor where such loatsome activites are concerned?

    Unless and until the UN can make a significant contribution toward eliminating all the scam artists in Nigeria and elsewhere in the third world, I say they have no business even thinking about a managerial role where the Internet is concerned.
    dmennie