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On Why and How the Internet Needs to Be Governed

The World is not inventing Internet Governance. Internet is already being governed.

There is governance, but without a formal structure—the structure is undefined like a round table. The table is not quite round, perhaps oblong, or queer shaped. Some participants around the table are visible and some are invisible. And whether or not the table has a ‘chair’ there is a head of the table visible or invisible.

The opponents of the concept of Internet Governance perhaps believe that the essential character of the Internet is preserved best by challenging the very concept of Governance. The words “Governance”, “Control”, “Regulation” or even “Coordination” are mistaken to be invasive to the essential character of a free, open and user-centric internet.

This tendency on the part of some groups arises out of naivety, it is naive to believe that today’s Internet is free space—it is not. The truth is that it is being governed, regulated, steered and controlled informally or invisibly. The nature of present internet governance is subtle. It is as subtle as a State with a concept for Free Press actually controlling the Press. There is no government on planet earth that keeps its eyes closed on press reports and there is no corporation which stands by and watches the press write anything that it feels about its management. In this sense at least there is control of the “free press”. The control in this case is subtle and not too obvious. This is the world order.

The voices that I hear in Internet Forums around the world are largely the voice of the Technical Experts who have caused the Internet to become the lifeline of the world. They have developed the technology, developed the standards and have built the Internet. Also heard is the voice of the users have contributed to the explosion of content and the spread the reach of the Internet. It is the users and the Technical Experts who express voices of concern about Internet Governance. But Governance happens to be in the realm of politics and management, which are arts too subtle for the scientific mind or for the common man to recognize.

Governments and Corporations have controlled Film Studios in the past (and present). Better understood is the control of the press. If studios and newspapers are “influenced”, would the Internet be free of subtle influences? Internet is enormous, global and ubiquitous. Internet has caused a far more (positive) upheaval in the World Order than that caused by the Industrial Revolution. It is too significant to be left alone.

Wars have been waged for the sake of maintaining an edge in agricultural or automobile trade. The size of these business segments pale in comparison with the magnitude of the internet economy. There are two aspects of the Internet Economy. One, the business value of the Internet infrastructure and services. More important is the business value of the business that takes place by using Internet as a medium. If Agriculture, Automobile or Tobacco was in the order of billions, Internet Economy is in the order of trillions, tens of trillions, soon to be hundreds of trillions.

Are we naive to assume that Governments and Corporations have stayed away from the Internet so far and have left it as a ‘property’ of the common man? I don’t think so.

Today’s Internet politics is subtle. It is veiled. Present trends—the discussions on Internet Governance and increasing expressions of interest from Governments to participate in the Internet etc. are to be taken as an opportunity to formalize the Governance that is already there backstage. The Internet Community now has an opportunity to turn the invisible Governance into Open Governance.

If the independent policy and technical community and all the activist groups go to the table with this understanding, a lot of good can happen. What needs to be recognized is the fact that there needs to be a formal process of governance rather than leave governance to the invisible and the subtle. Then the discussions can center around creating a balanced structure which has several aspects to be attended to:

1. Governments: Huge investments are needed to update and scale up the Internet Infrastructure. The money is not going to come from chartable individuals, a few corporations or from the academic community. How would the governments of north, south, east and west share the investment opportunities? More importantly whatever ‘participative’ roles in governance taken up by governments needs to be equitably shared by north, south, east and west, rich and poor nations, cold and hot continents. How? Will it be equitable or more like how it is at the UN Security Council?

2. Corporations: How is the collective role of business corporations from the rich world and the poor world, from the proprietary corner and the open source, from IT and non-IT, from the profit corporations and the not-for-profit entities to be balanced?

3. Civil Society and the Internet Community: The Internet Community broadly represents the free, user-centric internet of today. Rather than be on the other side of the table of the “Governance” proponents, the Internet Community might rather evolve to be Internet Governance Community embracing 1. and 2. Here again there is a note of caution. When Monarchy paved way for Democracy, the world saw a new class of monarchs within the Democratic form of government—Monarchs by any other name. When socialism became the political order in some countries, the concentration of wealth shifted to the power centers that were not meant to be. If the Internet Community is to govern the Internet, what checks and balances are to be in place to ensure that history does not repeat in the context of Internet Governance? The caution here is that it is important for the Internet Community to first preserve its present character before taking up the task of preserving the character of the Internet.

These are the very broad issues to be debated on the topic of Internet Governance.

By Sivasubramanian M, Proprietor, Nameshop

Views expressed here are those of the author’s only. Sivasubramanian Muthusamy also contributes to the Wealthy World weblog located here.

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Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet


Investment Simon Waters  –  Nov 9, 2008 11:25 AM

The bulk of investment in Internet infrastructure in the US and Europe has come from the commercial sector. As such it is clear that most of the developed world doesn’t need ¨Internet governance” to make the investments needed.

At best this is an argument for why we need more Internet governance in places not making that investment, but possibly those places have other issues that result in a lack of private capital willing to invest.

“But Governance happens to be in the realm of politics and management, which are arts too subtle for the scientific mind or for the common man to recognize.”

More likely they spot people who are waffling and call them on it.

Way too many words, nothing much of substance in the article Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Nov 10, 2008 6:22 AM

That said, I second Simon’s comment.  If this so-called “scientific mind”  is not capable of reasoned argument and analysis, then it is correctly recognized as waffle, and people that waffle tend to get cut off, very quickly indeed.

Now where did that happen to you, I wonder?

Reply to Simon Waters Sivasubramanian M  –  Nov 10, 2008 7:24 AM

Hello Simon Waters,

My point is not that we need Governance in order to bring in Investments. It was just said in the context of Government as a Stakeholder, in acknowledgment of the huge investments in Internet infrastructure that comes from / would come from Governments.

Reply to Suresh Ramasubramanian Sivasubramanian M  –  Nov 10, 2008 7:36 AM

Aren’t you insulting the scientific community and the common man with this distorted comment? My emphasis was on the intricacies of politics, and I implied that politics is not a straight forward, transparent process. The scientific community is rather used to openness and actually has a logical approach which does not quite fit into the craft of politics. You want to distort what I say and use this as an opportunity to campaign that the scientific community is ineligible?

If there is “nothing much of a substance” in this article why did it create this much of a peculiar reaction from you?

If there is "nothing much of a Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Nov 10, 2008 1:25 PM

If there is “nothing much of a substance” in this article why did it create this much of a peculiar reaction from you?

My reaction was that there isnt much of substance in your article.  That’s something that’s not unknown on circleid, and when it happens, people do point it out.

To Suresh Ramasubramanian Sivasubramanian M  –  Nov 11, 2008 7:40 PM

Thank you.

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