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Defining Internet governance: Scope and responsibi
Disagreement among governments in WSIS over Internet governance has revolved around two issues: the scope of its definition and who should be responsible for it.
In terms of scope, some envisage a narrow or restricted definition of governance of the Internet, in terms of technical coordination issues such as those managed by ICANN. Others take a broader or extensive view of governance on the Internet, relating to what the Internet carries and enables, with consideration given to a wide range of issues, such as e-commerce, intellectual property, technical standards, privacy and content. However, there is general agreement by both groups that ICANN is central to the debate.
The second area of disagreement is over responsibility for Internet governance and whether a new intergovernmental process is required or whether to stick with the status quo. Many developing nations, particularly China, South Africa, Brazil and most Arab states, have expressed the view that Internet governance is a matter related to national sovereignty and that an intergovernmental process, preferably under the UN (with ITU being specifically mentioned), is needed where governments could discuss policy issues of international scope. For developing nations, this “one-stop shop” for Internet and ICT-related policy activities has obvious appeal.
Most developed nations, including the USA, the European Union, Japan, Canada and Australia, have supported the current system of private sector leadership. They are referring to the narrower definition of Internet governance, particularly to ICANN’s responsibilities, while at the same time recognising that the Internet has developed successfully through self-regulation and so this should be encouraged to continue. They are proposing that, since private sector leadership works, there is no need for wholesale change.
The divergence of views between the developed and the developing world, and the challenge to the current system of Internet governance, is illustrated by the position stated by China at a meeting in September 2004 to discuss the formation of WGIG. The Chinese delegate commented that private sector leadership in Internet governance had served well up to now, but that was the past and it was time to move on. The Internet was too important and the biggest problem of today’s Internet was the lack of a legitimate organisation under the UN.
WGIG is taking a broad view of what constitutes Internet governance,6 reasoning that it must begin by taking an inclusive approach or risk immediately alienating some from the process. It has not taken any position on issues of responsibility. The Internet is recognised as the foundation of the information society. It provides an innovative environment that enables faster and cheaper communication. It is becoming the basis of global trade and an important means to help achieve many essential development goals. But the price of this success includes not only the effects of increased scale but also tensions arising from operating in a global environment which is multilingual, multicultural, multi-jurisdictional and cross-border. These tensions manifest themselves in problems associated with the allocation of Internet resources such as those ICANN oversees, multi-lingualism, interconnection arrangements and pricing, spam, cyber crime and security, and they are also the issues most often and most emphatically raised as those WGIG should address. They are the focus of this chapter as well.