During the recently concluded IGF I had an opportunity to participate in a debate regarding the merger of ICANN and the ITU to form one regulator for the Internet. Well my team lost the debate but I have decided to make my true position known on the issues regarding the control of the Internet.
From its origins as inter connected networks, the Internet has developed rapidly into a worldwide tool for delivery of virtually anything that can be imagined. Thus far, the Internet has developed more or less based on mutual understanding through setting of standards and agreements of convenience led in the most part by research institutions and the private sector.
After the development of the domain name system and the reorganization of IANA and InterNIC under the control of ICANN, an organization under contract with the US Department of Commerce, the Internet continued to grow and its uses diversified.
However in recent times, there has been a buildup of momentum from various actors who have expressed dissatisfaction with the current way the Internet is being managed. Various issues have been raised including the continued strangle hold on ICANN by the US Government, allowing other language scripts on domain names, web standards and applications, IP addresses allocation and a few others.
My position on this debate is simple; there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the way the Internet is currently being managed. The management of the Internet is a multistakeholder affair which actually represents the way the Internet has developed over the years. Those who argue that the US Government has a strangle hold on the Internet through ICANN actually have a point. But the part that ICANN actually plays in the whole internet set up is relatively small though fundamental.
The recent drive by the ITU to play a leading role in the management of the Internet is quite unnecessary. The ITU has its role set out in its constitution which deals with radio and telecommunications standardization and development. Granted that the Internet runs on communication networks, the argument of convergence does not give the ITU a greater role than it already has. Evidently the ITU sought to legitimize its agenda through the WSIS. Unfortunately the information society thought otherwise. I hear the ITU Secretary General has muted the possibility of hosting another conference on the management of the Internet. A curious question is “will the participants in this conference be different from those who participated in WSIS?”
I hold in high esteem the argument that there is a need to coordinate the management of the Internet. However such coordination should not necessarily be by one organization only. Priority on issues regarding the Internet is different from region to region and country to countries. While most developing countries are grappling with access issues, more developed countries are dealing with how to make the Internet safer. These diverse issues cannot be addressed by one global body. The UN is a good example. Some issues such as cybersecurity need to be addressed locally based on sovereignty. Some other issues need to be addressed globally. Ofcourse there is the economic interest of multinational companies who want to make profits as well.
I maintain that the IGF is a good forum. I quite appreciate the fact that the lack of decision making powers at the IGF actually frustrates many participants. But this is a platform and an opportunity like no other to discuss the future of the Internet. This multistakeholder experiment should be given an opportunity to develop as continued dialogue and discussion would eventually lead to a compromise.
So I support the motion that we should have a coordinated approach to the management of the Internet but such approach should be a multistakeholder affair with different organizations, institutions and individuals involved.
I expect some criticism so act fast