Internet Governance: Where do we go from here?

This week in our seminar on Global Innovation in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), we are focusing on Internet Governance.  Like other themes in the seminar, Internet Governance could be and is the subject of its own course, or even an entire course of study.  Several of the other ICT Innovation Themes discussed in this seminar are also integrally related to Internet Governance; including privacy and security, assistive technology, cybersecurity, freedom of expression, intellectual property rights, and broadband access.

Our reading for the week again includes some seminal pieces and one more contemporary paper.  To enhance the fundamental understanding of the history of Internet Governance, I had the participants read several chapters from Milton Mueller’s classic work, Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace.  The focus was on getting the students to understand how to define the Internet, from both a technical and policy perspective, to understand how it has evolved, and what mechanisms were put in place to govern its technical aspects as reliance on the Internet outgrew its beginnings.  We talked about some of the social, economic, political and technological forces putting pressure on the creation of ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and some of the international conferences and stakeholders involved in its evolution.  A working paper by the Internet Governance Project, “Internet Governance: The State of Play” gave the seminar participants a sense of the dynamics and multistakeholder perspectives involved in Internet Governance and the roles that they play.  Similarly, Don MacLean’s “Herding Schrödinger’s Cats: Some conceptual Tools for Thinking About Internet Governance,” helped participants to understand these various roles, and laid the groundwork for talking about the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva (2003) and Tunisia (2005).  We then, stepped back to talk about some of the theoretical approaches to global governance, broadly speaking, and for high-technology in particularly.  Drawing on the seminal piece by Steven Krasner (2002), “Structural Causes and Regime Consequences: Regimes as Intervening Variables (1982) and then and landmark follow-on study by Peter Cowhey, “The International Telecommunications Regime: The Political Roots of Regimes for High Technology,”  we discussed the conceptual power found in international regime theory, including some of the strengths and weaknesses of various schools of thought that have embraced it.  We also discussed the limitations of international regime theory, and provided a critique that would contribute to a much more robust analytical framework for understanding Internet Governance.  Drawing upon some of my own work, we talked about how the international telecommunication regime was being eroded by a series of economic, technological, sociological and political factors and described the interregnum between the birth of a potential new regime to govern the Internet.  We discussed WSIS as a major period of contestation around the principles, values, norms and decision-making procedures upon which the Internet Governance regime is based.  Another IGP paper responding to the WSIS Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) was included for contextual reading, and a contemporary paper by Vint Cerf, Patrick Ryan, and Max Senges, “Internet Governance is our Shared Responsibility” helped to put some of the recent Internet Governance battles, such as the one at the ITU-organized World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) into perspective.  We ended with a discussion of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), and its strengths and weaknesses as a mechanisms to facilitate dialogue around the principles, norms and values of Internet Governance.  Look for a paper from me soon that covers all these issues, developed for presentation at the “Why Govern?” conference coming up at the American University School of International Service in a few weeks.

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