[AfrICANN-discuss] [***SPAM***] Issues for 2012 #1: Should the UN Govern the Internet?

Anne-Rachel Inné annerachel at gmail.com
Thu Dec 22 10:23:26 SAST 2011

  Issues for 2012 #1: Should the UN Govern the
By Scott M. Fulton,
December 21, 2011 4:00 PM / 0


[image: United Nations seal (150 sq).jpg]"The communications public policy
effort that may affect all of us the most in 2012... will take place far
from our shores," stated U.S. Federal Communications Commissioner Robert
McDowell, in a speech in Washington before a bar association two weeks ago.
"As we sit here today, scores of countries, including China, Russia and
India, are pushing hard for international regulation of Internet

We talk a lot, almost *ad nauseum*, about the "free and open Internet."
What we sometimes fail to take into account is that freedom has many...
shall we say, *facets*, which cast different shades of light at different
angles. From one angle, the story looks like this: The free Internet is
threatened by the incursion of governments that would seek to suppress
individual freedoms through the systematic restructuring of Web services,
with the burden being placed on service providers to comply. But that's not
coming from Comm. McDowell, or from the opponents of SOPA legislation. It's
the new populist battle cry of Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister
seeking once again to become President.

The International Telecommunications
Union<http://www.itu.int/en/Pages/default.aspx>(ITU) is the world's
principal standards maintenance organization for
electronic communications, and has been so since 1865. Today, it is an
agency of the United Nations. Not all that long ago, when the act of going
online was largely a function of the telephone, it was ITU (and its
predecessor, CCITT) that managed the multi-stakeholder process of
standardizing signal processing with telephone modems. The syntax of
today's e-mail addresses, using the @ symbol, is a direct descendant of a
CCITT standard. It is no minor player.

Last June 15 at U.N. Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the ITU's
Secretary-General, Hamadoun Toure, met with the Russian Prime Minister for
what began as an innocuous photo-op. It's at photo-ops like these where
Putin (a man whose own publicists share photos of him fly fishing with his
shirt off) likes to lob verbal grenades to see how long it takes them to go
off. It was here that he lobbed a big one, and the blast hasn't even really
happened yet.

[image: 110615 Putin with Hamadoun Toure.jpeg]"We are thankful to you for
the ideas that you have proposed for discussion," Mr. Putin told Toure,
according to the Russian government's official English-language
"One of them is establishing international control over the Internet using
the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International
Telecommunication Union. If we are going to talk about the democratization
of international relations, I think a critical sphere is information
exchange and global control over such exchange. This is certainly a
priority on the international agenda."

"Global control" is Putin-ese for a kind of transparent, but centralized,
governance system. For example, Russia's proposed global nuclear
nonproliferation regime, which is opened up for international cooperation
but centralized around Russia, is called the Global Control System. It is
the counterpart of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush's "New World
Order." <http://www.sweetliberty.org/issues/war/bushsr.htm>

In a live public forum last week, Mr. Putin gave another interesting hint
about his vision for Internet governance. Asked what his government could
do about the rise of objectionable content over the Web, Mr. Putin
suggested that it is not government's place to do anything about it
directly. Instead, he argued, government should offer a proactive
alternative. "There is only one way to confront [*the problem*]," Russian
news service Publiciti translates him as
"That is by offering other options and solutions on the same platform, and
by doing it much more creative and interesting."

But because the Internet mirrors society now, he continued, law enforcement
agencies should have as much jurisdiction in virtual society as they do in
actual society, saying, "Culture or even incivility of what is going on, on
the Internet, is the same what is happening on roads [in our cities]... Law
enforcement agencies have to watch what is happening on the Internet, such
as pedophilia and other problems."

He's not really wrong, in some ways, depending on how the light hits you.
But Mr. Putin also leaves open the possibility of a kind of agency only a
former Soviet bureaucrat could appreciate: a bureaucratic agency to reduce
the spread of bureaucratic agencies. And that sent up red flags (with a
little gold emblem in the corner) at Comm. McDowell's office. As he noted
in his speech two weeks ago:

Even though Internet-based technologies are improving billions of lives
everywhere, some governments feel left out. They have formed impressive
coalitions, and their efforts have progressed significantly. So merely
saying "no" to any changes to the current structure of Internet governance
is likely to be a losing proposition... Accordingly, we should encourage a
dialogue among all interested parties and broaden the multi-stakeholder
umbrella to find ways to address all reasonable concerns. As part of this
conversation, we should underscore the tremendous benefits that the
Internet has yielded for the developing world through the multi-stakeholder
model. Upending the fundamentals of the multi-stakeholder model is likely
to Balkanize the Internet at best, and suffocate it at worst. A top-down,
centralized, international regulatory overlay is antithetical to the
architecture of the Net, which is a global network of networks without
borders. No government, let alone an intergovernmental body, can make
decisions in lightning-fast Internet time. Economic and political progress
everywhere, but especially in the developing world, would grind to a halt
as engineering and business decisions inevitably would become politicized
within a global regulatory body.

But proponents of ITU governance are touting the failure of the
multi-stakeholder model - as represented by ICANN, the steward of the
Internet's domain hierarchy - by citing the recent, and much anticipated,
chaos surrounding the opening up of the .XXX top-level domain. Now
stakeholders whose livelihood depends on their being disassociated with
pornography (for example, Penn State University) are just as much in the
market for .XXX domain names as adult content publishers. And top-level
domain registrars are going so far as to market those domains for non-adult
publishers for that very purpose, even on television, with the tagline,
"Get yours... before someone else does!"

It's the infusion of Western commercialism and the corruption that
capitalism brings forth... all over again.

In an historically replete and comprehensive overview of the
posted to Cisco's corporate blog, Geoff Huston, chief scientist
with the Asia/Pacific Network Information Center, cites the dangers ahead
if Putin and others continue their success at characterizing ICANN as a

There are still the lingering concerns that if ICANN, as a private-sector
entity, were to once more explore positioning itself on the brink of
imminent demise, the collective task of picking up the pieces and
continuing to support the operation of the Internet is one that appears to
have a very uncomfortable level of uncertainty. In addition, the perception
of ICANN as an entity whose single purpose is to maintain an entrenched
advantaged position of the United States and of U.S.-based enterprises in
the global Internet has been widely promulgated. It is often portrayed that
ICANN offers no viable mechanisms for other national or regional interests
at a governmental level to alter this somewhat disturbing picture of
international imbalance. Although other aspects of international activity
fall under various political or trading frameworks, and national and
regional interests and positions can be collectively considered and
negotiated, critics of ICANN point out that the message ICANN sends to the
rest of the world is that the United States is withholding the Internet
from conventional international governance processes. Skeptical
commentators interpret the U.S. administration's use of ICANN as at best a
delaying technique to gain time to further strengthen the position of
U.S.-based enterprises across a lucrative global Internet market, aided and
abetted by a compliant industry body that masquerades as an international
standards organization.
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