Towards the Internet as a Global Public Good

Posted on December 20, 2012


I think now that the smoke from WCIT/Dubai is starting to clear a little, perhaps it would be a good idea for some of the fog to lift as well.

It seems to me that basic to some of the broad base of confusion(s) which seemingly were at play in Dubai (and certainly were pervasive for those who weren’t there on the ground) is a fundamental (and to a very considerable degree–manufactured) confusion between “interests” and “values”.

The quote (variously attributed to von Clausewitz, Palmerston and Anon) that “States don’t have friends, they have interests”, probably should be updated in the context of a (Facebook et al) broad redefinition of the nature of “friends”–to the phrase “States don’t have values, they have interests“..

To me, that pretty much sums up the posing and play acting that went on in Dubai and particularly frames a useful (i.e. fog free) understanding of the outcome.  Clearly (to my mind at least) the US and others in the (Internet) Freedom League were promoting fairly specific commercial/national “interests” (security, trade, capital and revenue flows, profits, tax regimes etc.etc.)  under the broad guise of Internet Freedom/Hands off the Internet.  Nothing particularly surprising about that (the obverse at least for me would have been the surprise).

Equally of course, the guys in the black hats on the other side were pursuing national “interests” –security, trade, capital and revenue flows, profits, tax regimes etc.etc.–but as seen by and supportive of their team/errr side/errr coalition of the signers… nothing surprising about this either, and again one would be surprised if it wasn’t thus.

However, what is surprising is the way in which the (Internet) Freedom League was able to frame the discussion (they have been reading their Lakoff) so decisively as being one of (their) “good” values vs. the others “bad” interests!

Where this gets even more surprising and foggy is why the Internet technical community and civil society by and large chose to take sides in this arena rather than siding for the Internet (and the “values” that both, but particularly the technical community so vigourously and widely have been espousing).

Rather than for example, arguing for the Internet as a global public good and for the development of arrangements and mechanisms to ensure the continuity and development of the Internet in the global public interest, for whatever reason they (both the technical community and CS) chose to get lost in the fog of battle and accept the public declarations of the purity of the “values” of one side, over the rather inept, if somewhat more honest declarations of “Interests” (in WCIT outcomes and ultimately in the operation of the Internet) by the other side.  (The role of the ITU in all this as a slightly disingenuous “honest broker” is to my mind largely beside the point in this follow on discussion.)

But now that the smoke is clearing and hopefully for some at least, the fog is lifting there is now a very significant role for the technical community and CS (in their respective roles and hopefully as a united coalition of coalitions) to articulate and lead the fight for a vision of how the Internet can function as a global public good (as opposed to a battlefield of multiple private interests) and what the governance structure (or process) for such a beast might look like.