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Jefferson Rebuffed: The United States and the Future of Internet Governance

A paper by Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger and Malte Ziewitz was recently published at John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University titled, “Jefferson Rebuffed: The United States and the Future of Internet Governance”. The following excerpt provides an overview of the paper.

Over the last several years, many have called for an internationalization of Internet governance in general, and Internet naming and numbering in particular. The multi-year WSIS process that culminated in November 2005 was intended to create momentum in such direction. The United States has long resisted such internationalization, fearing in particular the growing influence of China and similar nations.

The proposal put forward by the European Union in September 2005 would have offered a constitutional moment for Internet governance by suggesting internationalization based on fundamental values of the Internet community. The swift rejection of the proposal by the US was surprising, both from a tactical as well as—in light of its own constitutional history—a substantive viewpoint.

In this article we have described the main features of the European proposal and what it might have created. We evaluated four possible arguments explaining US rejection: delegation of power, objective rights, public choice, and de-legitimization of international regimes.

We conclude that a combination of domestic pressures and aversion of international regimes caused the US government delegation to reject the proposal. As a result, WSIS concluded without a constitutional moment for Internet governance. It may turn out, though, to be a Pyrrhic victory for the United States. The calls for internationalization of Internet governance will not subside and the US will have to continue to fend off demands for a transfer of power. The opportunity for Internet governance to be based on the values of the Internet community, however, will likely not return.

To download a full PFF version of this paper from JFK School of Government, Harvard University, visit this page.

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CircleID’s internal staff reporting on news tips and developing stories. Do you have information the professional Internet community should be aware of? Contact us.

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Milton Mueller  –  Jun 14, 2006 7:32 AM

This is a very good analysis of the EU proposal in the context of WSIS, and an excellent antidote to the “the UN is out to take over the Internet” meme that still thrives in a lot of the U.S. business community and among U.S. nationalists.

One can still fault the EU for a lack of clarity and forthrightness in its promulgation of the proposal, not to mention bad (late) timing. Unlike Brazil, for example, they failed to explicitly embrace the call for a Framework Convention put forth by the IGP, nor did they appear to work effectively with other nations interested in serious change.

But the authors may be a bit too pessimistic about the opportunity being completely gone. The NTIA Notice of Inquiry does offer a chance for the global community of internet users and suppliers to address the issue of US oversight once again.

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