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Pot…Kettle…Black: The REAL Hypocrisy Threatening the Future of the Internet

Amongst all of the media pieces in the run up to WCIT-12 next week, few have been as counterfactual as that appearing on the website of the Global Journal.

The editor, Jean-Christophe Nothias clearly has very little knowledge of how Internet economics or governance works, making such uninformed statements such as “Critically, the connections between the approximately 40,000 autonomous servers at a global level are ruled by contractual agreements between operating agencies.” when I think he means “Autonomous Systems”, of which there are more than 40,000 and these Autonomous Systems mostly don’t consider themselves “operating agencies” as they are known in the ITU world.

When writing about the Internet current capacity for self-governance, he says: “This might be true when speaking about a web where users can create and participate in unlimited communities, websites or blogs, but this does not equate to control over the only critical command center of the Internet—its rooting system.” Does he mean root server system or is he talking about Internet routing? it really doesn’t matter, what matters is how the statements (and there others in the article) reveal his lack of knowledge of how the the Internet works.

The author also conveniently ignores the reality of the Internet charging model where subscribers pay for Internet access when he states “When, for example, a citizen of Botswana uses Google’s search engine, the relevant operating agency of Botswana will ultimately have to pay the operator sending the data.” He forgets to mention, that in this case the operating agency of Botswana gets paid by its subscribers to carry that data to them, they in turn pay their upstream provider who in turn pay their upstream (not to mention that Google pays for their own connectivity). Google is also introducing Google Global Caches in Africa, so when one comes to Botswana (or an IXP where Botswana Telecom peers) then the operating agency doesn’t have to pay for this data (as transit) but reaps the revenue from its subscribers. It’s a win-win for end-users and the incumbent telco/ISP. In any case, Botswana Telecom (and other providers in Botswana are highly profitable entities that didn’t have revenues from Google or Facebook or Yahoo! to achieve these results.

In addition, when he writes: “The Internet works because it operates according to agreed principles, rules and centralized control—one must maintain a clear-eyed perspective.” He clearly doesn’t understand that there is no “centralized control”, in fact there is no “control” per se. the Internet is indeed a decentralised network of networks each setting their own policies on Interconnection (routing). There is, in one small corner of the infrastructure, a policy secretariat (ICANN) that does administration of Internet numbering, naming and port and protocol resources using an open, transparent, consensus based and bottom-up system of decision making amongst multi-equal stakeholders. The rejection of this system seems to be the authors main point. This is clear when he writes “The old credo by David Clark in 1992—“we reject presidents, kings and voting; we believe in rough consensus and running code”—is part of the web wonderland hagiography, but not reflective of today’s Internet reality.”

In fact, it is entirely reflective of the reality of today’s Internet policy making apparatus. For example, this week in Khartoum, the African Network Information Center is holding it’s semi-annual numbering policy meeting, where decisions will be made in a fully open, transparent and bottom up manner. What the author clearly would prefer is the top-down, governments only voting style of regulation as seen in the ITU. While this has been useful in recent decades for, inter alia, telephony numbering, radio and satellite spectrum allocation, it makes no sense in the meritocratic, much faster moving world of Internet policy.

The worst of his counterfactual hypocrisy however is when he attacks Google (and Vint Cerf in particular) for leading a “behind the scenes campaign”, when in fact Google, as well as ISOC, EFF, CDT, the Technology Liberation Front and dozens of Internet companies and technical coordination bodies are all doing their part to educate and mobilise Internet users about the possible negative effects of some of the proposals that will be made at WCIT. He also complains that Google has declined to join the ITU as a “Sector Member” when in fact, joining costs them some autonomy, since as a Sector Member, they would have some obligations, but receive no voting rights, which are, of course, reserved for nation states.

National governments already have regulatory and legislative authority over content, licensing of ISPs, domain take-downs, filtering, surveillance and a myriad of other Internet related issues inside their borders. Giving them further control over what is currently managed by a variety of actors in the Internet ecosystem, would be counter-productive to the growth and development of Internetworking that has worked extraordinarily well over the past 4 decades.

By McTim, Internet policy and governance consultant

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