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.


Robin Van Hemert said...

Hi Erkki,
I think your blog post raises a very interesting issue! I fully agree with your message that a free internet is hugely important. I'm just wondering why you feel the internet is a 'non-excludable public good'? If I understand your post correctly, I think there might be a need to separate the internet as a service from the flow of information that results from it. To me, it seems that the service of internet itself is very excludable (public wifi networks excluded). It can be shut off for people who don't pay for it, similar to utilities like electricity. Perhaps the information that is freely accessible through the internet could be considered a public good because, given that you have access to some sort of internet and live in a country that does not censure content, it is non-excludable and non-rival.

Erkki Piipari said...

Hi Robin,
I was thinking Internet to be a public good in the sense that as the operator prices have come down significantly from, say the end of 1990's, the investment required to access it is pretty much negligible. I see it the same way kind as a public park: it is non excludable in the sense that anyone can go there and they cannot be prevented from doing so, but we do pay for the upkeep in our taxes.

Your point on letting the information in Internet be a non-excludable is a good point, but which also raises some related (philosophical) questions. It is true that as long as the data is accessible it is non excludable. However, as we have seen the amount of data on the net growing exponentially, do we really have access to all of the data since we do not even know what is out there? The way that the typical search query to the internet is made, is made through search engines that index a large number of websites that they get their hands on. This is done by using web crawlers that move from site to site via links. However, if a website does not have any links, even though it exists, it will not be indexed, and thus we will have no possibility of knowing it exists. It is true that we have a theoretical access to the site, but it does not make that access any more concrete in reality.

On a second point, we can think about the way that the data that we see online is filtered and tailored for us. As all the searches we do into the web are already filtered for us, there are quite a limited set of possibilities to access data impartially. With advanced web search and mapping techniques it is possible to get a more inclusive access to the web, but that already requires know-how on how to do it.

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