11 May 2016

The struggle to govern the internet

Erkki writes:*

As people have become more dependent on Internet the idea of having it as a basic human rights has started to gain momentum. World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) supports this view. It is a UN sponsored body that consist over 2,600 members, and that has initiated more than 5,000 projects. It is committed to bringing equal access to the benefits of the Information Society to everyone, but also works as a medium for the discussion over Internet governance for governments, private sector and NGOs. This far, the governance of the internet has mainly been a multi stakeholder business that has allowed all the actor’s involved to participate. Without a doubt the multi stakeholder governance model has been influenced by the lack of control mechanisms for the information flow. This has led Internet to develop as a non-excludable public good - equally accessible to all with a relatively low cost. Not all, however, think this should be the case.

Many governments including China, Russia and Pakistan have started to voice increasing demands towards controlling the national borders of Internet. These calls are aimed at stopping the free flow of information, and to strengthen cyber sovereignty. The aim is to create a new Internet where states are free to control Internet within their borders without interference from other states. In fact, this would lead to the creation of multiple Internets – one for each country – and transform the internet to a state level club good.

These demands for change have not been embraced by other countries such as the U.S., many civil society actors, and certainly not by most tech companies. These actors recognize that the promise of freely accessible knowledge for all, that has been the driving force of Internet, is threatened by its opposite promoted by some regimes. As the struggle for the governance of Internet grows more intense it is important to remember that a large portion of the perks of modern life are based on the services provided by it. Things like social media, free internet calls, online banking, route planners and maps, email, and many more are possible because of the freely accessible web. Therefore, standing up for a free Internet is standing up for all these benefits for people all around the world.

Bottom Line As the struggle for internet governance gets more intense it’s important to remember all the benefits we derive from its access and connection among all the world's peoples.

* Please comment on these posts from my environmental economics students, to help them with unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data, etc.