Internet Governance

The UN Secretary General's Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) is developing a report for the November 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). In early May, the WGIG posted a questionnaire that seeks to gather public opinion on institutional arrangements related to internet governance. They seek views on the functioning of the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Government Advisory Council (GAC), and recommendations about whether another mechanism is needed and what it might look like. The questionnaire is available at the WGIG site: A TC comment to the discussion wiki accompanying the questionnaire is given below.

WSIS/WGIG: Response by Telecommunities Canada

The phrase "Internet governance" contains two concepts that modify each other - Internet and governance. Most of the discussion responding to the WGIG arrangements questionnaire addresses only the Internet half of the equation. But deriving a true working definition of Internet governance requires us to think about the implications of governing in an Information Society.

In effect, if form follows from function, then the way the Internet works reveals the functional design specifications of the society it serves. An Information Society is a networked structure of distributed systems. Such systems have little need to waste energy in control because the key to their survival is their capacity to learn. In such "structures," (in such communities) the solutions will only emerge from the edges, never from the centre. After all, isn't that what TCP/IP was designed to do, and will continue to do unless the will to power seeks to contain it, push the smarts to the edges?

The formal response of the Internet Mark 2 Project speaks to the question of models as follows:

"The Convention on the Law of the Sea would seem to offer a model for consideration of a similar issue, in that a global commons to be shared is involved."

Telecommunities Canada believes that their reference to a "commons" points towards a necessary new definition of governance, one that is inherent in the structure of an Information Society and one that alters relationships among the governed in a different way. We would also reference the economist Benkler's idea of "commons-based peer-product," the idea of the Sussex Information Networks and Knowledge Research Centre of "peer reciprocity" as an indicator of social status, and the emerging understanding of how power law distributions affect the structure of social networks.

Telecommunities Canada has been seeking to understand and explain the importance of community, and the emergence of community online, to the structure of the Information Society. We see community online as the missing dimension of public policy debate. We have been using the Internet, and in particular the Internet Protocol, as a metaphor for how governance actually works in such a society. See for example:

Beyond the Information Society: Enabling Communities to Create the World We Want. Statement prepared by Telecommunities Canada for "Paving the Road to Tunis WSIS II: The Views of Canada's Civil Society on the Geneva Plan of Action and the Prospects for Phase II," Winnipeg, May 13-15, 2005. HTML.

Regarding the WGIG's first question about forums or "arrangements" for cross-cutting global issues, their appropriateness would depend on which society and its institutions wants to set agendas. It is disturbing to think of institutions that are grounded in an Industrial Society's view of the way things are done setting agendas for "the global community as a whole." It is difficult to imagine them avoiding issues that make the Internet a means to ends that are not "net-centric." It seems a much better idea to evolve the "distributed governance architecture" that has emerged from within the Information Society itself, and that self-organizes commons-based peer production in direct response to the Internet's actual uses and real needs.

Internet governance does not only mean governance of the Internet. It also means governance by the Internet.