Elon University

Global IGF 2008 – A letter from Civil Society organizations November 30, 2008

Open letter warns that telecommunications companies
and mega-corporations are threatening the future of the Internet and the world

Groups of people from the civil-society sector are wielding the connecting power of the Internet to find ways to play an important role at the Internet Governance Forum and other gatherings targeted toward influencing the people who make key decisions regarding the architecture and other policy.

An example of this can be seen in an effort by IT for Change, an India-based organization to draw attention to what it sees as the some of the most important concerns for the future of the Internet. Its leaders, including Anja Kovacs and Parminder Jeet Singh, have been gathering signatures on an open letter to the UN Internet Governance Forum at its third meeting, in Hyderabad Dec. 3-6, 2008.

The headline is “The IGF Must Act Now Against the Threat to the Public-ness [sic] and the Egalitarian Nature of the Internet.” The content addresses the “democratic deficit” in Internet governance and notes that IGF “is largely failing to address key public-interest and policy issues.”

To see the open letter, click here.

The authors of the document isolate four key points to address:

1. Increasing corporatization of the Internet

2. Increasing proprietization of standards and code that go into building the Internet

3. Increasing points of control being embedded into the Internet in the name of security and intellectual property violations

4. Huge democratic deficit in global Internet governance 

The letter has been signed by a number of civil society organizations.

The message asks, “Who shapes the Internet as the Internet shapes our new social context?” noting that the Internet “defines a new emerging social paradigm… determine[s] the contours of the emerging social order in many important ways.” It warns, “Today, the Internet of the future – the very near future – is being shaped insidiously by dominant forces to further their interests.”

It adds, “If it does not act now, [IGF] may get seen as a space that only provides an illusion of a public policy dialogue, and, consequently, as being co-opted in furthering the agenda of dominant forces that are shaping the Internet as per their narrow interests. The global community – comprising not only people who currently have access to the Internet, but also the un-connected billions who are being impacted by it nevertheless – will judge the meaningfulness and legitimacy of the IGF in terms of what progress it is able to make on these issues.”In an addendum, the authors state the following opinions on the status of the Internet:

“Corporatization of the Internet: Largely unsuspected by most of its users, the Internet is rapidly changing from being a vast ‘public sphere’, with a fully public ownership and a non-proprietary nature, to a set of corporatized privately-owned networks. On the one hand, telecom companies are carving out the Internet into privately-owned networks – controlling the nature of transactions over these networks. They seek to differentially charge content providers, while also building wholly private networks offering exclusive content relay services. Developments like video/TV over Internet Protocol and the provision of controlled and selective Internet services over mobiles are contributing to increasing network-operators’ control over the Internet, with a corresponding erosion of its public-ness. On the other hand, the commons of the Internet is also being overwhelmed and squeezed out by a complete domination of a few privately owned mega-applications such as Google, Facebook, YouTube etc.

“Proprietarization of standards and code that build the Internet: One of the main ways of appropriating the commons of the Internet is through the increasing use of proprietary and closed standards and code in building the Internet system. Such appropriation allows the extortion of illegitimate rent out of the many new forms of commons-based activities that are being made possible through the Internet.

“Embedding control points on the Internet: A growing confluence of corporatist and statist interests has led to the embedding of more and more means of control into the Internet in a manner that greatly compromises citizens’ rights and freedoms. Whether it is the pressure on Internet Service Providers to examine Internet traffic for ‘intellectual property’ violations; or imposition of cultural and political controls on the Internet by states within their boundaries; or ITU’s work on IP trace-back mechanisms; or the tightening of US control over the global Internet infrastructure in the name of securing the root zone file and the domain name system, these new forms of controlling the Internet are being negotiated among dominant interests away from public scrutiny and wider public interest-based engagements.

“Democratic deficit in global Internet governance: The current global Internet governance regime – a new-age privatized governance system professing allegiance mostly to a single country, the US – has proven to be an active instrument of perpetuation of dominant commercial and geo-political interests. Lately, OECD countries have begun some work on developing public policy principles that, due to the inherently global nature of the Internet, can be expected to become globally applicable. It is quite unacceptable that OECD countries shirk from discussing the same public policy issues at global public policy forums like the IGF that they discuss among themselves at OECD meetings. Apparently, developing countries are expected to focus on finding ways to reach connectivity to their people, and not burden themselves with higher-level Internet governance issues.”