Elon University

Workshop: Transnationalization of Internet Governance

IGF Egypt 2009 Logo

Global cooperation is necessary to optimize the Internet as it evolves

Workshop description: The Internet is not just a technical artifact, requiring technical governance to keep it running smoothly; it is an evolving, changing socio-political phenomenon requiring participative, inclusive and accountable political governance, which is best achieved through transnationalization. The global network transcends boundaries. This workshop analyzed current structures of governance and the progress being made toward transnationalization from various standpoints, and it assessed best practices for the future.

Panelists included: Ian Peter, co-director of Internet Government Caucus, Internet pioneer; Wolfgang Kleinwächter, professor of Internet policy, University of Aarhus, Denmark; Robert Kahn, chairman, CEO and president of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, U.S.; Anja Kovacs, IT for Change, India; Jeremy Malcolm, Internet and open source lawyer for Consumers International; Robert Pepper, vice president of global policy and government affairs for Cisco; Janna Anderson, Imagining the Internet, Elon University and Pew Internet Project.

November 15, 2009 – In the session on “Transnationalization of Internet Governance,” a panel discussed how Internet governance is being impacted as rapid changes in the Internet can’t be anticipated. Covering the current gaps in Internet governance and possible alternative models, a moderator and six panelists discussed transnationalization of the Internet and enhanced cooperation.

Ian Peter, co-coordinator of the Internet Government Caucus and an Internet pioneer and historian,  moderated the discussion. He opened by talking about specific events in the past year since the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) last met, highlighting several major developments, including the end of the Joint Project Agreement giving the U.S. government oversight over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number (ICANN). Next, he focused the debate to look forward because new applications, policies and ideas we can’t yet imagine are on the horizon. “Somewhere in the world someone may be coming up with something very significant that we just don’t know about yet,” Peter said.

Wolfgang Kleinwächter, professor for International Communication Policy and Regulation at the Department for Media and Information Sciences of the University of Aarhus, said one must understand the past history of the Internet to be able to discuss its likely future.

He said in a complex, multilayered system that continues to scale upward no one group alone can manage everything, adding that all technical issues have political indications. “You cannot separate the technical from the political issues,” Kleinwächter said. “You cannot make political decisions without understanding the policy.”

Wolfgang Speaking IGF 2009He said each stakeholder has to define his or her role in the mechanisms before everyone can work hand-inhand.

Janna Anderson, director of Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University, presented some background information to set up the discussion of transnationalization of the Internet.

“The Internet is global, and it is in all people’s current and future best interests to see beyond borders and all of the categories we humans so often choose to sort ourselves into,” she said.

Anderson Speaking IGF 2009She touched said three things are necessary in order to foster successful transnational approaches to jurisdiction, sovereignty and control issues: people’s first loyalty must be to their role as global citizens; there must be a focus on leader development and education; it is important to project and consider horizon issues at a time of accelerating change.

“We must constantly adjust our approach,” she said, “as our tools evolve in new ways to include user-generated content, social networks, cloud computing, the Internet of Things and wireless hyperconnectivity, as business transactions, property assignations, and formal and informal regulation of added layers of complexity in our telecommunications morph at an accelerating pace. As breakthroughs in interfaces, artificial intelligence and neurological research, bioinformatics, genetics and other sciences combine with advances in our communications networks, we will have massive challenges in the years ahead.”

She noted that the philosopher Jürgen Habermas and other experts on the public sphere have observed how we as humans have evolved to the point where we are more fully able to realize and work toward achievable ideals of peace and justice, making a vision of oneness more nearly possible. “We all have an obligation a responsibility – to represent the rational expectations and best interests of everyone,” she urged. “As we realize our first loyalty is to the common good and our primary role is as global citizens, it becomes more likely that our responses accomplish this.”

She cited an Imagining the Internet survey of  2007 IGF participants to illustrate how global cooperation is necessary to find a balance between the protection of individual civil liberties and the maintenance of a secure, trusted Internet. Among the findings she shared:

• 87 percent said there is little chance for future economic success without global Internet access
• 77 percent said open, equal, neutral Internet access will continue only if there is local and global policy support in place to assure it
• 76 percent said there should be a global Internet policy supporting freedom of expression online

“These findings demonstrate that it is more important now than ever before for transnational groups of educated, engaged leaders from all sectors to work to anticipate future concerns in order to achieve positive outcomes as the Internet evolves and is scaled upward to meet the needs of billions more users,” Anderson said. “And it is a huge challenge to do this while retaining an open and secure environment for innovation, discourse, sharing and connection.”

Malcolm Speaking IGF 2009Jeremy Malcolm, a lawyer with Consumers International who is involved with multistakeholder issues and Internet governance, said there is an issue with relying on existing organizations to make regulations since it is hard to expect them to be transparent, multistakeholder organizations. While there is reform going on in a few organizations, such as ICANN, Malcolm said there is no way to effectively hold these institutions up to their standards.

“Who is going to enforce the obligation for these institutions to adhere to the [World Summit on the Information Society WSIS] criteria?” Malcolm asked.

He said it is thought by some that this is a task that could be designated to a body such as the IGF, but this has not happened. He called for a new forum to make non-binding decisions in appropriate situations.

He said adding the role of establishing norms or making recommendations would change the nature of the debate at IGF. However, he said, IGF participants could successfully come together to provide mutually agreed-upon recommendations on topics such as child pornography. He said now is the time to remake IGF into a body that is more pro-active, at a time when its future is being assessed.

“It is possible to have an informal group or body such as the IGF that comes out with recommendations that come out in a mutlistakteholder way,” Malcolm said. “This is something that has been done before. It’s not too late for the IGF to take on this role as well.”

Robert Pepper, senior managing director of global technology policy for Cisco, said in order to make political decisions about the Internet we need to have a better understanding about where the technology is going. He showed current-day Internet traffic statistics and some of Cisco’s projective data and he discussed how we must address how the Internet scales, which includes access in terms of native language, native content and overall affordability.

“We need to figure out an ecosystem that doesn’t just permit but fosters innovation everywhere across the entire ecosystem,” Pepper said.

He cited the uptake in use of video on the Web and on mobile devices, noting that this is enabling native-language communications because it bypasses the need for literacy and enables everyone who goes online to be content producers as well as content consumers.

He said Cisco is predicting we will soon see zettabytes of traffic across the Internet, predominantly because of the use of video. “What we’re seeing is the Net growing of a factor of six over a five-year period,” Pepper said, noting that we don’t yet have the architecture in place yet to do this volume of expected video sharing. “We do not yet have networks that can really support that. That’s huge because that’s how we begin to replicate the miracle of mobile for the Internet.”

He said by 2012 nearly 50 percent of all net traffic will be video, and he predicted that 64 percent of the traffic across the mobile Internet will be video by 2013.

Robert Kahn, co-inventor of the Internet protocol, said the panel had not focused on one aspect everyone takes for granted, and that is what the definition of the Internet actually is.

He said most people view the Internet as a separate network of its own, but he refers to the Internet as a series of protocols and procedures that are able to produce a capability that is larger than anything one network could provide by itself.

“The collective is what we see when we talk about ‘the Internet,’” Kahn said. “I really think there are serious issues that require collaborative attacks on various problems in order to create a stable system in the future.”

He said when we talk about the Internet we should not talk about it in regard to what one huge individual network can do, since the Internet is really just a protocol allowing individual networks to work together. “People define the Internet in the context of a separate network, which it is not,” Kahn said.

He said nothing anyone does should cause the Internet to fragment.

“I really think the future for us is in the issue of managing information network,” Kahn said. “No one cares about moving bits for moving bits. It’s because you want to cause some action to be taken – you want to access some information, you want to manage something. It’s always about an end function.”

He said it is important to deal with the fundamental technical issues that surround authentication. “We have to understand how to help the underdeveloped countries get into that space,” Kahn said. “The time is right to pick that as the focus on the technical side of things and see if we can get on a new space for discussion in the IGF.”

He also said stakeholders need to look further ahead. “We should be thinking about centuries, if not millennia or more, and that puts a very different spin on things,” Kahn said. “We need to be into a system of management and identification for everything that can stand the test of time.”

Anja Kovacs, from India’s IT for Change, said the celebration of decentralization underestimates political economy and relations between different groups of people. “What we discuss here will impact the lives of people who cannot access the Internet at the moment,” Kovacs said.

She said access to the Internet is not going to solve all the issues. “At IGF we all sit together and say the real decisions actually get made somewhere else, and those are spaces where often we do not have any say,” Kovacs said. “Decentralization is something we should really question.”

She said IGF stakeholders need to think critically about how they can strengthen the current models and that a measurement needs to be developed to gauge whether a process is going in the right direction or not. She also noted that she is not the only one who should be speaking out for those who have traditionally not been considered when it comes to the politics of the Internet. “Northern states [must also] think about the impacts of their policies in the South,” she said.

Pepper said the IGF can be proactive without taking action. “A decision can to be do nothing, a decision can be to do something,” he said.

Malcolm said various mechanisms of governance can be employed to implement recommendations, as well as to disseminate norms throughout the Internet community, adding that IGF participants should contribute to the political process and give input, since their output is an input into other processes.

Kahn pointed out that when the IGF was created, it was set up specifically not as a body that would make any recommendations, but rather as a forum for discussion. “It would be a substantial change of the nature of this body to get into that for all of the reasons that we’ve heard,” Kahn said.

Kahn said it is OK to have bodies that make determinations with no ability to follow up. He said collectively there are things that should be tackled, but that IGF should be viewed mostly as a forum for raising questions.

Peter closed the session by saying the Internet is under threat, especially from old, dying empires – citing  Rupert Murdoch’s publishing businesses as one example – that are putting up their last struggle to change things back to the way back to the it used to be.

“I believe the Internet will survive all of these challenges,” Peter said. “I will be very pleased to see that happen.”

Senior producer, Andie Diemer
Additional reporting by Shelley Russell, Drew Smith,
Janna Anderson, Eugene Daniel and Dan Anderson

Imagining the Internet report on IGF-Egypt 2009 home>

Internet Governance Forum official site>