Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Whose Internet is It Anyway?

Pajamas Media held a BlogJam to discuss Whose Internet is It Anyway?. I urge you to read the whole thing, but I will hilight a few of the points made:

Peng Hwa Ang said One of the prime movers behind the governance debate is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). It's an open secret: the members of the ITU are worried about the loss in revenue

Precisely. The entire "control of the internet" thing has two basis
  1. Ability to make money from one's citizens wanting access to the net, and Controlling what those citizens can learn and what they can say
from such things as Skype and instant messaging and other substitutions of their traditional voice telephony.

Dan Gillmor said How to kill the open Internet: Give governance to the ITU.

Peng Hwa Ang said We are talking in the abstract here. We need to get down to brass tacks. The issue that WSIS talked about are threefold:
  1. who should have ultimate say of the root zone system--the ccTLD and existence in cyberspace? Currently, it is no longer entirely in the hands of the USA
    Each country should be in charge of its own domain name registration, and if a company thinks it is capable of doing it, it should have the right to the domain server for domains in its country code, because if they screw it up, it will just stop access to domains in that country.
  2. whether there should be one forum to discuss all internet law and policy issues (YES, so WSIS decided) or multiple fora (the original position endorsed by the USA and
  3. should there be a fund to help developing countries.
    There are already many of those funds, and I think funds to provide help in finding water, growing food to feed their citizens, medical support for things like AIDS and other diseases, etc are a lot more important than getting everyone a laptop or an email address.
  1. the USA has defused the tension by allowing all countries to have a say in their own respective ccTLD. The previous position was simply politically untenable: the USA actually had a say in the .IQ of Iraq even before the war.
  2. It makes sense to have one forum to coordinate on matters such as spam, consumer fraud, copyright, etc.
  3. It make sense to help developing countries.

Perry de Havilland said Dan is correct that authoritarian/totalitarian states really can control the internet within their nations but that requires both resources and will to implement. China can do that but other nations might lack the knowledge and determination to do so and so would like a cheaper 'political' solution rather than something like the Great Internet Wall of China.
Are you saying that a poor dictator should be able to use the UN to make sure his citizens don't learn what is going on in his country, rather than having to invest in the information control infrastructure himself?
Much of the talk you hear coming out of the UN is, once you decode the language, about preventing unrestricted free speech. The usual canards about racism, child abuse and fraud are trotted out (sure they happen but...) but those are the excuses, not the real reasons.

Inevitably we hear complaints about US 'control' of the internet whereas in reality "the US" does no such thing and what really annoys various members of the political class in many nations is the idea of an increasingly mass media system that, unlike newspapers or TV/radio channels, cannot not be easily controlled by either co-opting or intimidating a proprietor or board the way they are used to dealing with their existing old media outlets. In truth it is the underpinning American assumptions that spring for their First Amendment that really annoys so many people and they see the internet as a way that this ethos may get imported into their country and that is really what gives so many in the UN hives is the idea the prevailing culture in their neck of the woods may change in ways they cannot control.

Oh sure, all sorts of excuses are used why more control is needed to prevent "bad things" happening on-line, but it is really just about the rights of individuals to express themselves freely. Everything else is a smoke screen.

Dan Gillmor said We may not really need a huge Digital Solidarity Fund in any event. Moore's Law -- the exponential improvement of technology hardware -- pretty much assures that the gear will be affordable almost everywhere before too many more years go by.

How it's deployed is another question. So is whether the people in a given country are preoccupied with such things as having enough food to survive, as opposed to getting online.

Franklin Cudjoe said The UN mostly supervises white elephant projects.
Or anything else they can steal money from.
Whats the use for intance in getting nations to sign up to treaties to proved laptops for poor children in developing countries when they need energy and vitamins, the very things their governmnets most often deny them, before they can use the lap tops. I thought a radio was most imporatnt.

Peng Hwa Ang said I do not think it is a fair question to ask whether funds can be better allocated for water vs internet connectivity. Life is a matter of priorities, not a question of all-or-nothing. It's a difficult situation and I think that while water is essential for the short-run internet connectivity is essential for the long run.
You need water to live. You don't need internet connectivity to live (although when I was off the internet for several days while in the hospital I might have had a different opinion then)
That such a debate even exists shows the desperate situation of the African continent.

Peng Hwa Ang said I've had some people email me that they would (a) not trust the UN to watch over $5 much less my/our internet and (b) if they want their internet go build "their own damn internet".

I happened to meet Bob Kahn walking about the resort town of Sidi Bou Said near Tunis and he said that it is quite easy to set up a parallel internet universe aka "their own damn internet".

My replies have been that (a) the UN is made up of governments and forced to make a choice most people trust their own governments--and therefore the UN--than the USA and (b) building "their own damn internet" is the worst possible outcome for everyone because everyone loses, with the USA being the biggest loser should that happen.
I disagree. I think it is a very good idea. They can control what is on it as much as they want, and then ther will pop up routers to connect their controlled internet to the free internet we have.

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