The Wall Street Journal published an article alleging that Google was trying to arrange a “fast lane for its own content” with telecom carriers and contending that Google and Professor Lessig were in the midst of changing their position on network neutrality policy. The WSJ reporters received a lot of flak for the piece – justifiably so. The WSJ’s sudden interest in the topic seemed more like an attempt to poison the well as the Obama Administration and its net neutrality-friendly team ascends to power. There is one useful outcome of this incident, however.
ICANN, which coordinates and sets policy for the global domain name system (DNS) and IP addressing, is linked to the US Government through a Joint Project Agreement (JPA) that expires in September 2009. The JPA and its renewal process provides what, during WSIS, became known as “political oversight” over ICANN. The US government says that it is committed to “completing the transition” to private sector coordination of the DNS, which implies an expiration of the JPA. During the 2008 mid-term review, ICANN made it clear that it also strongly supports an end to the JPA. ICANN's call was supported by some stakeholders. Other parties, however, expressed concerns about its accountability without some kind of governmental oversight.
This workshop, held on Wednesday December 4, 2008 at the Internet Governance Forum in Hyderabad, India, was designed to provide a careful and balanced exploration of whether ICANN is ready to be free of US government oversight, and if so what kind of external oversight – if any – should replace it.
While the uncertainty surrounding attendance at this year’s IGF was mostly unfounded (there were more than 1200 attendees despite the Mumbai attack, an amount comparable with previous years IGFs), the usual doubts surfaced about what the Forum is accomplishing. Nonetheless, it seems that more participants are pushing the Forum to engage in substantive policy debate, and to identify a process for producing tangible outputs.
Patrik Fältström, one of the panelists at the IGF security session blasted by IGP’s Michel van Eeten in a December 5 blog, has responded. Patrik’s response makes it clear why the IGF often generates so much frustration among the people working “together” on it. It’s very good that this disagreement has taken place. It tells us a lot about what is going on. Two very different – and almost inherently incompatible – visions of the Forum are revealed by this exchange. I would go further and say that if Patrik’s conception prevails, the IGF will not last for the next five years.
At the Hyderabad Internet Governance Forum, the Chinese delegate threatened to withdraw from IGF and “use other mechanisms” unless the IGF stops trying to avoid the controversial issues that led to its creation. The strong reaction from China came because a clear discussion of the problem of U.S. government control of the root and “enhanced cooperation” in the Tunis Agenda had been all but sabotaged by defenders of the ICANN regime.
Day two at the IGF focuses on cybersecurity, meaning the main sessions are devoted to it. After the first session, I heard a participant say: “I know nothing about Internet security, but I didn’t hear anything new.”
It is the first day of the program of the Internet Governance Forum itself. The first workshop I attended was on “Understanding Internet Infrastructure.” It could also have been called “Everything you always wanted to know about the Internet, but where afraid to ask.” The answers revealed some surprising gaps in how we think about infrastructure issues.
The 3rd meeting of the UN Internet Governance Forum is now underway in Hyderabad, India, beginning with the Annual Symposium of GigaNet (Global Internet Governance Academic Network). Attendance has been affected by the violence in Mumbai, which is 700 km away. Life in Hyderabad, however, is quite normal, attendees are moving about the city and the suburban “Cyberabad” area where the Forum is being held with no problems, other than the sometimes horrific road traffic. The presence of Indian security forces at the hotels and conference venues is noticeable. Many Indian commentators take the same attitude toward avoidance as was taken by New Yorkers after 9/11: it is important to not be intimidated and to insist on going on with one’s life.