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SSIG - A holistic approach to Internet governance

Here are my notes from the presentation of William Drake, Graduate Institute for International Studies, Geneva:

William Drake: A holistic approach to Internet governance

What is Internet governance and how do we know when we see it? There are many competing ways of seeing it and there are different consequences of the choice made.

The overview of the presentation:
1. What is global internet governance?
2. How has it evolved over time?
3. How are infrastructures governed?
4. How are information, communication and commerce governed?
5. What is holistic analisys?
6. Holistic perspective on emerging challenges

1. What is global internet governance?

William Drake has been one of the people who in the civil society has always defended the idea for a broad definition of Internet governance that would go beyond ICANN issues.

The nature of global internet governance has been the subject of world wide debate as concepts can have policy implications. Since the WSIS process it became clear that the breakthrough we had did not really continue. Many people did not get involved and continued talking about IG the way they talked before WSIS.

Historically we had 3 major misconceptions: one was the governance denial, prominent in the technical community, that in case we talked about governance, then governments would come and do things that would not be adequate. A cyberlibertarian mentality prevailed in this group particularly in the 90s.

A second misconception was that IG was mainly connected to ICANN and this continues even today when mass media talks about IG. Although ICANN has an important space and issues, there are others that are often ignored.

The third misconception was that governance meant governments - the UN system would be able to take management of the internet.

These 3 misconceptions generated lot of political friction.

The term governance is at the core. We have governance in all types of human affairs. Governance is a process of steering and shaping, creating decisions, rules and procedures to achieve some objective. The important point is that governance is something that can be done by anybody, not just governments, and in many ways, unilaterally, bottom up, etc.

When we talk about global internet governance, we should look at other areas of the world where governments and other actors get together: trade, monetary, food, security, environment etc. IG is not different.

Here is one definition: the development and application of shared principeles, norms, rules decision making procedures, and programs intended to shape actors expectations and practices and to facilitate management of internet infrastructure.

What causes governance is actions that are implemented. If it does not affect anything or shape behavior, it is not governance.


Governance exists in different levels of political space: local, national, regional, international, transnational and global. Here, we are talking about global internet governance. There are many ways of thinking of the term global: territorial universality, but also in a different ways: Castells talks about the "space of flows" - if we have an arrangement that pertains to 70% of the flows in a certain arena, that could be said to be global. For example: set of rules on privacy adopted by leading industrialized countries making other countries having to accept these standards, becoming global.

Thus, global governance is not truly universal yet is done by a small set of actors who are able to impose their rules elsewhere.

Where does Internet governance exist, substantively? There are many levels.


Who creates GIG?

It is hard not to look at what Google does: it takes decisions that shape and configure the internet for everybody, so does Microsoft. If code is law, bad code is bad law and thus bad governance.

Because of political differences, it is not possible to reach a formal agreement. What happens is that major players take their own policy approaches and start to converge with the approach of other major players. On the ITU, there are governments working together and governance receiving similar approaches and also the knowledge sharing on the ITU, so that approaches are taken in a way that it spills a governance effect even to third parties. The case of deep packet inspection for example.

There are no treaties on how tier 1 providers will work but they follow very similar approaches in their contracts: this convergence creates a governance.

Finally, how does GIG evolve? There are life cycles. There is a creation, some adaptation to the environment, if the arrangement is effective it will be able to adapt itself to the environment changes. This is a dynamic stability, but can be also the reverse: a developed system becomes out of sync and no longer effective, undermining its political support and becoming weaker and less relevant. In this case, there are two options: we can either abandon it and try to create a new framework or we can change it. In the case of global communication, there are many examples. If political or other conditions do not allow the continuing of the status quo, is there a possibility to transform it to new structures? We can examine cases to see how it happened.


When we take all types of categories, we can start to compare how they all work and then think more coherently about how to make them better.


From the standpoint of the rationalist approach, it is possible to create and allocate resources, and property rights. We can constrain actors and at the same time empower actors to do something else.


Norms and values can be created, reducing transaction costs to create efficiencies and allowing parties to work together effectively, establishing liability rules and so on.


On the social theory tradition, it is possible to play additional roles: institutionalize communicative interaction among players, promote community and create a sense of mutual obligation to each other, maintaining reputation and create norms and values about not only what can actors get ore effectively but also what SHOULD be done, what is right. In social terms the value drives activity. They encourage individual and collective learning. They create an environment where there is a process that by working together our self interests may evolve and change.

The point to be made here is that first, we need to have a clear idea of what we mean by governments . We should be clear about what is the subject we are working on. There are many ways to describe institutional arrangement.

In the US last night there was a big vote on the health care future. If we try to describe what the legislation does, we have to describe these mechanisms. How they work, and all the operations when we talk about Internet governance.


2. How has it evolved over time?

Looking at the history of global communications, there is a distinctive overarching institutional architecture for ICT global governance defined by a particular blend of dominant technologies, ideas, interest configurations.

1850-1980: multilateral regimes were mostly negotiated in limited set of intergovernmental bodies. From 1981-1994 this became more liberalized and process driven by large global firms. When we look after 1995 a rapid growth exploded with a differentiation of governance mechanisms.


3. How are infrastructures governed?

Post-WSIS, states are becoming more involved, differently from the past where technical coordination had more influence. International rule systems are being put in place.

Which ones really matter most with direct impact on the Internet? Here are the inner and outer circles of influence:


ICANN is particularly important, because this is where everybody comes together with their concerns and try to harmonize their different domains of operation under this common umbrella.


4. How are information, communication and commerce governed?

When people complain about government and its surveillance, it is rare to hear complains about the right of countries to do that. According to ITU provisions, countries have the right to stoppage and suspension.

Cybercrime is another area with a growing regulation, just like intellectual property. They establish what can be done on the Internet and even affect protocol development. There is a lot of work going on and a huge push by large corporations to make this even strong, such as the possible ACTA.

WTO has binding trade rules on digital goods on the Internet and this is part of the GIG.


5. What is holistic analysis?

If we view the interrelationship of things as a system we can promote more effective policies. We can identify gaps in the architecture, identifying lack of strong rules. We can draw comparisons and contrasts with other areas such as intellectual property. What are the different possibilities to address issues?

We can also address multidimensional issues, going beyond a narrow vision. We can think of transparency and accountability, effective participation. This is not just an academic construct, it is what WSIS proposed to have more effective policy approaches. The Tunis Agenda has language clearly indicating support to this concept:



6. Holistic perspective on emerging challenges

These challenges are better addressed via a broad definition of Internet governance and they should promote development and facilitate the people's ability to use these resources.



Creative Commons License
Blog posts written by Seiiti Arata on #SSIG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Brazil License.

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