What is "Internet Governance"?
  Open consultations dominated by definition controversy
  15 February 2005. As the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) continued its debate, chairman Nitin Desai in the beginning of the open consultations today gave a short overview concerning the outcomes of the closed meeting on Monday. Emphasising that the group is still in the fact-finding phase he noted an agreement among the group members that the WGIG has to deal with several issues:
  1. Internet governance infrastructure (in terms of a broad view on the total structure)
  2. Internet use (which means mainly spam and cyber security)
  3. Development dimension of Internet governance which is still unclear
  4. Issues of rules and principles (for example 'social inclusion', 'freedom of expression', etc.)
  5. Issues which involve an additional interface (for example 'e-commerce')

Desai then invited all stakeholders to contribute to the process in expressing their views on the discussion so far. This opportunity was willingly seized.

Debate on "issue papers"

Objects of debate in the morning session were mainly the drafted issue papers which have risen some controversial points.

Developing countries under the leadership of Brazil, India and China made clear that in their view the current governance regime of the Internet is characterized by a lack of legitimacy as the existing institutions (e.g. ICANN) do not have a clear mandate, and in other areas (spam, security) a regime is missing completely. In their view the issue papers have failed to take into account the role of developing countries and the UN in governance. They therefore insisted on constituting a more transparent process while drawing the line between technical aspects and public policy issues. The main point of this argument was that Internet Government mechanisms should be accepted by all, be clear and measurable and assure appropriate participation of all stakeholders which is seen as the key to bridge digital divide and fulfil the mandate of the WGIG. In their view a roadmap would also be desirable on how least developed countries can reach the identified targets to build the information society.

The UNESCO - surely in accordance with civil society - demanded that the notion of 'free flow of information' should definitely be affirmed in the final report as such a statement is still missing in the contributed issue papers. As further vital aspects which should be included in the report the UNESCO mentioned the topics 'universal access' (which should be related to the already existing agreement of UNESCO signed by 191 states), 'multilingualism' and the importance to preserve the openness of internet. Finally the 'freedom of information' should be seen in relation to the broader view of 'freedom of expression'. These aspects were supported by the Multilingual Internet Names Consortium which emphasized multilingualism and 'self-e-determination' as functions of human rights.

Robert Kahn, one of the founders of the Internet, added some general comments to the process, mainly emphasizing the importance of the evolutionary character of the Internet which implies that mechanism constituted today should allow the net to evolve also in the future. This notion of "openness of the internet" was widely agreed on by the following contributions of other speakers. Izumi Aizu from the Internet Governance Task Force of Japan used it to remind the most critical government delegates that sometimes it is their own fault that they are not participating in the existing governance structures of the Internet, even if they are explicitly invited.

It seems everybody in the end wants a coordination mechanism (many people preferred this term instead of "governance") that involves more or less everybody. The major difference exists over the question if this mechanism should be linked more to the intergovernmental and legal system of the UN or more to the technical and private sector networks that have dominated the Internet so far.

What is "Internet Governance" - and what is the Internet?

The discussion then very quickly turned to the issue of finding a working definition of "Internet Governance", which many countries missed in the process so far and which occupied the consultation for the rest of the day.

The frustration about the absence of a working definition at the current stage of the WGIG process reflects the fact that many where unsatisfied by the decision to have issue papers created before being able to relate to an overall definition. Only an agreed upon definition in their view could lead the way in the process.

Not surprisingly, the participants were not able to find common ground in this regard. While there was broad agreement on the notion that a definition should reflect the openness and the dynamic of the internet, a lot of different proposals were made about which other aspects such a definition should encompass and which structure it should have. Some preferred a very brief and technical definition, but many governments wanted to see the specific aspects reflected which they regarded as important. Somehow it seemed that people wanted to see just everything in the definition, including items which in fact would belong into a final report.

However, some interesting contributions have been made which should be mentioned here:

Milton Mueller (Internet Governance Project / University of Syracuse) pointed out that the Internet is a software protocol and does itself not contain a physical infrastructure. As such he related to his own proposal of a narrow technical definition such like TCP-IP as a protocol for interconnection of different kind of networks.

WGIG member Wolfgang Kleinwächter (University of Aarhus) again pointed out that a definition has to address the complexity of the issue as there is no simple solution for the problem. In relation to Robert Kahn's definition of the internet as a network of networks, connected by a common protocol, Internet Governance according to Kleinwächter has to be understood as a mechanism of mechanisms. The task would mainly be to link this mechanism together and subdivide several definitions of single aspects under one umbrella. In this regard, one should focus on the totality of the structure, not on certain single issues.

WGIG member Bill Drake (CPSR) proposed that a first part of the definition could contain a descriptive (factual) phrase followed by a second part covering the prescriptive (normative) aspect. But the definition should definitely be broad enough to capture all necessary aspects under it.

Due to the request of several participants, an internal compilation of definitions on "Internet Governance" done by Richard Hill from ITU, which already had been circulating at the first WGIG meeting in autumn, was presented via projector. This paper - that will also be made available on the WGIG website - then guided through the rest of the discussion which will be continued tomorrow morning.

Chairman Nitin Desai desperately tried to remind participants several times that they only have to deal with the Internet and not repeat the whole WSIS process and deal with all WSIS issues. But as the WGIG consultations are right before the PrepCom, it seems delegates are already warming up for the general debates on the information society.



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