Internet Governance: Have we won the battle but lost the war?

We did not actually lose the WCIT battle in Dubai but appear set to lose the Internet Governance War

If you read press cover on the recent ITU conference on the future of the Internet in the technical press you might think that the supporters of the Internet Engineering Task Force, The World Wide Web, ICANN and the Internet Governance Forum preserved their dominance over the future of the Internet. If you read the BBC cover you might think the result was a draw. If you read the official communique you might feel rather less optimistic.

The Draft Treaty was not ratified but it was passed with well over two thirds support from those actually voting and almost two thirds of those eligible to vote. More-over the nations voting in favour represent the majority of customers for any “stakeholder led” solution. English is now the language of barely a quarter of Internet users  (26.8%). It will soon be overtaken by Chinese (already 24.2%). But the Internet is increasingly multi-lingual and multi-cultural. A simple count of the languages spoken by the nations voting in favour indicates that they represent a majority current, let alone future, Internet users.

More-over, many Western Nations, like the UK, are beginning to appreciate that they too are haemorrhaging taxable revenues via the tax havens used by the multinationals who run the on-line world (from transmission networks, operating systems and browsers, through social networks to on-line shopping, transaction, payment and content services). Whether or not it is ever ratified, a draft traty supported by nearly 2/3rd of the potential signatories gives its supporters all the legitimacy they need in order to help regional action (counting the EU as a  “region”, like South east Asia) to recoup what they regard as their fair share of the action.

To put it crudely: the control of the Internet, which passed from US communications engineers to US IPR lawyers about a decade ago, appears about to pass to those engineers who are in favour with their local governments, regulators and tax authorities around the world. If you do not like what is about to happen then you will have to work together in order to secure a critical mass of public support for a more credible alternative. The status quo is, of course, an option. But the status quo is trending .

I happen to believe strongly in a market led (i.e. driven by customer needs and only “enabled” by technology advances), but also democratically, accountable way forward. I am not sure what that means in practice, let alone how to bring it about: hence my commitment to the competition for the thought leaders of the future to look at how to rebuild confidence in the on-line world, in the hope that they will come up with better answers than those currently on offer. I also hope that my successor at the Digital Policy Alliance will have the support of his members to harvest the results of the competition for political use in Westminster and Brussels. Given progress to date we appear likely to have the competition up and running in February with a dozen or so Universities organising heats, supported by a dozen or so major employers – in advance of a high profile “come and join us” announcement in March.

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