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Internet Governance: Analogue Solutions to Digital Problems

This is an overview of the booklet, “Internet Governance: Issues, Actors and Divides” recently published by DiploFoundation and the Global Knowledge Partnership. Update: This article was reposted with additional information and a new title.

Internet Governance is not a simple subject. Although it deals with a major symbol of the DIGITAL world, it cannot be handled with a digital - binary logic of true/false and good/bad. Instead, the subject’s many subtleties and shades of meaning and perception require an ANALOGUE approach, covering a continuum of options and compromises.

The Internet Governance Booklet covers more than 40 issues, graphically represented by Diplo’s “Internet Governance—Building under Construction.” For each Internet Governance issue, there is a brief description of the current situation and a survey of the unresolved questions associated with it.

Internet Governance Toolkit

One important contribution of the booklet is the Internet Governance Toolkit, a collection of cognitive and policy tools that have gradually emerged through ongoing political and academic discussions on Internet Governance.

Experience from other international regimes (e.g. the environment, air transport, arms control) has shown that such regimes tend to develop common frames of reference, values, perceptions of cause-and-effect relationships, modes of reasoning, terminology, vocabulary, jargon, and abbreviations. The Internet Governance Toolkit is just one building block in the creation of a more comprehensive cognitive apparatus for dealing with Internet Governance issues at the international level. The toolkit consists of three main groups of tools.

The first group - Approaches and Patterns - includes: Narrow vs. Broad Approach to Internet Governance, Technical vs. Policy Aspects, “Old-Real” vs. “New-Cyber” Approach, Decentralised vs. Centralised Structure of Internet Governance, Internet and the Public Good, Geography and the Internet, and the “Walk the Talk” Approach.

The second group - Guiding Principles - consists of: “Don’t Re-invent the Wheel,” “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It!,”  Internet Governance and Development, Promotion of a Holistic Approach and Prioritisation, Make Tacit Technical Solutions Explicit Policy Principles, the Principle of Technological Neutrality, and the Risk of Running Society through Programmers’ Code.

The third group consists of Analogies frequently used in discussions on Internet Governance issues. The following main analogies are analysed: Internet-Telephony, Internet-Mail/Post, Internet-Television, Internet-Library, Internet-VCR, and Internet-Highway.

Internet Governance - Different Perspectives and Professional Cultures

At the Global Forum on Internet Governance, held at the United Nations in New York on 24-25 March 2004, several speakers told various versions of the story of the blind men and the elephant1.

The moral of the poem makes it clear that a discussion of the meaning of “Internet Governance” is not merely linguistic pedantry. Different perceptions of the meaning of this term trigger different policy approaches and expectations.

Telecommunication specialists see Internet Governance through the prism of the development of the technical infrastructure. Computer specialists focus on the development of various standards and applications, such as XML or Java. Communication specialists stress the facilitation of communication. Human rights activists view Internet Governance from the perspective of the freedom of expression, privacy, and other basic human rights. Lawyers concentrate on jurisdiction and dispute resolution. Politicians worldwide usually focus on media and issues that play well with their electorates, such as techno-optimism (more computers = more education) and threats (Internet security, protection of children). Diplomats are mainly concerned with the process and protection of national interests. The list of potentially conflicting professional perspectives on Internet Governance goes on.

Each of the terms “Internet” and “governance” is the subject of controversial interpretation. Some authors argue that the first part, “Internet,” does not cover all of the existing aspects of global ICT developments. Two other terms: “Information Society” and “Information and Communications Technology” are usually put forward as more comprehensive. They include areas that are beyond the Internet domain, such as mobile telephony.

The argument for the use of the term “Internet,” however, is enhanced by the rapid transition of global communication towards the use of TCP/IP as the main communications technical standard. The already ubiquitous Internet continues to expand at a rapid rate, not only in terms of the number of users but also in terms of the services that it offers, notably Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which may displace conventional telephony.

The second part of the term, “governance,” has been the cause of controversy in recent debates, especially during WSIS. Misunderstanding primarily stems from the use of the term governance as a synonym for government. When the term “Internet Governance” was introduced in the WSIS process, many, especially developing, countries linked it to the concept of government. One of the consequences of such an approach was the belief that Internet Governance issues should be addressed at the inter-governmental level with the limited participation of other, mainly non-state, actors.

What were the main reasons for this terminological confusion? Is it obvious that “governance” does not mean “government”? Not necessarily. The term “good governance” has been used by the World Bank to promote the reform of states by introducing more transparency, reducing corruption, and increasing the efficiency of administration. In this context, the term “governance” was directly related to core government functions.

Another potential source of confusion is the translation of the term “governance” into other languages. In Spanish, the term refers mainly to public activities or government (gesti?n p?blica, gesti?n del sector p?blic and funci?n de gobiern). The reference to public activities/government is also noticeable in French (gestion des affaires publiques, efficacit? de l’administration, qualit? de l’administration and mode de gouvernement). Portuguese follows a similar pattern by referring to the public sector and government (gestăo p?blica and administra?ăo p?blica). This discrepancy in the interpretation of the term “governance” might provide a linguistic explanation for why many delegations at WSIS linked the question of Internet Governance to the public sector, and centred their deliberations on the need for government intervention.

1 The Blind Men and the Elephant
US poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Moral: So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

By Jovan Kurbalija, Director of DiploFoundation & Head of Geneva Internet Platform

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shahram sharif  –  Feb 28, 2005 9:35 AM

this story has rooted in a iranian clasical litrature .MOLAVI who was a iranian great poem who died in turkey(GHUNIE)had a such story in his book called MASNAVI.acording to that story there is an elephant in the darkness and some people have to find what is this.they touch a part of elephant and they misunderstand about their sense.

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