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On Why and How the Internet needs to be "governed"

Sivasubramanian Muthusamy

The World is not inventing Internet Governance. Internet is already being governed.

There is governance, but without a formal structure - the structure is undefined like
a round table. The table is not quite round, perhaps oblong, or queer shaped. Some
participants around the table are visible and some are invisible. And whether or not
the table has a 'chair' there is a head of the table visible or invisible.

The opponents of the concept of Internet Governance perhaps believe that the
essential character of the Internet is preserved best by challenging the very concept
of Governance. The words "Governance", "Control", "Regulation" or even
"Coordination" are mistaken to be invasive to the essential character of a free, open
and user-centric internet.

This tendency on the part of some groups arises out of naivety, it is naive to believe
that today's Internet is free space It is not. The truth is that it is being governed,
regulated, steered and controlled informally or invisibly. The nature of present
internet governance is subtle. It is as subtle as a State with a concept for Free Press
actually controlling the Press. There is no government on planet earth that keeps its
eyes closed on press reports and there is no corporation which stands by and
watches the press write anything that it feels about its management. In this sense at
least there is control of the "free press" . The control in this case is subtle and not
too obvious. This is the world order.

The voices that I hear in Internet Forums around the world are largely the voice of
the Technical Experts who have caused the Internet to become the lifeline of the
world. They have developed the technology, developed the standards and have built
the Internet. Also heard is the voice of the users have contributed to the explosion
of content and the spread the reach of the Internet. It is the users and the Technical
Experts who express voices of concern about Internet Governance. But
Governance happens to be in the realm of politics and management, which are arts
too subtle for the scientific mind or for the common man to recognize.

Governments and Corporations have controlled Film Studios in the past ( and
present ). Better understood is the control of the press. If Studios are newspapers
are "influenced" would the Internet be free of subtle infulences? Internet is
enormous, global and ubiquitous. Internet has caused a far more (positive) upheaval
in the World Order than that caused by the Industrial Revolution. It is too
signinficant to be left alone.
Wars have been waged for the sake of maintaining an edge in agricultural or
automobile trade. The size of these business segments pale in comparison with the
magnitude of the internet economy. There are two aspects of the Internet
Economy. One, the business value of the Internet infrastructure and services. More
important is the business value of the business that takes place by using Internet as a
medium. If Agriculture, Automobile or Tobacco was in the order of billions,
Internet Economy is in the order of trillions, tens of trillions, soon to be
hundreds of trillions.

Are we naive to assume that Governments and Corporations have stayed away from
the Internet so far and have left it as a 'property' of the common man? I don't think
so.

Today's internet politics is subtle. It is veiled. Present trends - the discussions on


Internet Governance and increasing expressions of interest from Governments to
participate in the Internet etc. are to be taken as an opportunity to formalize the
Governance that is already there backstage. The Internet Community now has an
opportunity to turn the invisible Governance into Open Governance.

If the independent policy and technical community and all the activist groups go to
the table with this understanding a lot of good can happen. What needs to be
recognized is the fact that there needs to be a formal process of governance rather
than leave governance to the invisible and the subtle. Then the discussions can
center around creating a balanced structure which has several aspects to be
attended to:

1. Governments: Huge investments are needed to update and scale up the Internet
Infrastructure. The money is not going to come from chartable individuals, a few
corporations or from the academic community. How would the governments of
north, south, east and west share the investment opportunities? More importantly
whatever 'participative' roles in governance taken up by governments needs to be
equitably shared by north, south, east and west, rich and poor nations, cold and hot
continents. How ? Will it be equitable or more like how it is at the UN Security
Council ?

2. Corporations: How is the collective role of business corporations from the rich
world and the poor world, from the proprietary corner and the open source, from
IT and non-IT, from the profit corporations and the not-for-profit entities to be
balanced ?

3. Civil Society and the Internet Community: The Internet Community broadly
represents the free, user-centric internet of today. Rather than be on the other side
of the table of the "Governance" proponents, the Internet Community might
rather evolve to be Internet Governance Community embracing 1. and 2.
Here again there is a note of caution. When Monarchy paved way for Democracy,
the world saw a new class of monarchs within the Democratic form of government -
Monarchs by any other name. When socialism became the political order in some
countries, the concentration of wealth shifted to the power centers that were not
meant to be. If the Internet Community is to govern the Internet what checks and
balances are to be in place to ensure that history does not repeat in the context of
Internet Governance? The caution here is that it is important for the Internet
Community to first preserve its present character before taking up the task of
preserving the character of the Internet.

These are the very broad issues to be debated on the topic of Internet Governance.

Sivasubramanian Muthusamy, India.


http://www.linkedin.com/in/sivasubramanianmuthusamy