Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Internet Governance is Like Other Governance

Greetings from the The Sixth Annual United Nations Internet Governance Forum ANU Remote Hub, at the Australian National University in Canberra. Three local speakers are setting the scene, before the streaming commences from the United Nations Internet Governance Forum 2011 in Nairobi, Kenya.

There are two speakers from ANU and one from the Department of Communications:
  1. Dr. Jacinta O'Hagan, Department of International Relations, ANU
  2. Andrew Mauer, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
  3. Dr. Matthew Rimmer, College of Law, ANU
Dr. O'Hagan discussed what "Governance" is and how that addresses the needs of those in need internationally. This seems a little naive to me, as in the rest of life, the Internet will mostly be government by those who have resources and power to preserve their interests. There is no reason why the Internet should suddenly make people altruistic.

In my view, current Internet governance issues are around the division of power between the USA, Europe and emerging economies in Asia, particularly China. The Internet was designed in the USA and the World Wide Web in Europe. Even where there was a deliberate attempt to be inclusive the results were limited. As an example, the Internet was designed to work primarily with the English language and, to a less extent, other European languages. Even when Unicode was introduced to allow other languages, it had the US ASCII character set built in, making it easier to use for English than Asian languages.

Andrew Mauer explained ICANN's origins in academia and its diverse makeup. He emphasized that ICANN is not a UN body and operates differently to some other international bodies. He discussed various proposals for more government control of the Internet. But in my view ICANN works much like other voluntary standards bodies, with similar government and commercial tensions.

In my view many international systems which look as if they were run by monolithic government control, such as the banking system and telecommunications, really are not like that. Tensions in the international standards process are well documented. Kenneth R. McConnell's book "Fax: Facsimile Technology and Systems" (1999) describes the disputes between the USA and Japan over the development of fax standards. Carl Malamud's 1992 book "Exploring the Internet: A Technical Travelogue" discussed the dysfunctional nature of international telecommunications standards, which held up adoption of the Internet. Marc Levinson's book "The Box" discussed commercial and national rivalries in developing the ISO shipping container standard.

Dr. Rimmer, talked about the Washington Declaration on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest. But as with Internet governance, in my view Intellectual Property (IP) law is understandably designed by those with power and resources to maintain their position. Essentially the developed world, after building their industry by freely copying inventions, wants to now limit access to inventions by developing nations. This is acknowledged, for example with the Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile referring to called section 17.4.4 of the Australia—US Free Trade Agreement as the "Mickey Mouse clause".

ps: I will be talking about "Education on-line for development" at the forum at ANU, 3pm, 29 September 2011

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