"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
Updated from my last blog on the subject; I’ve now completed and submitted my essay (thesis) on the subject of African participation in internet governance. A great feeling to have completed it; capstone assignment of the course.
For my essay, I gave a brief review of the literature dealing with how internet governance developed.This historical overview is interesting, as it is (at least from the perspective of international governance institutions) quite specific and atypical.Following from that, I looked at a few of the current taxonomies currently used in academia, before taking a specific approach to evaluate African participation in internet governance.Below is a summarized selection from this part.
In the literature there are different types of taxonomies and definitions of core functions and / or critical resources and as a result it is useful to look at a few cases before laying out how to proceed in this specific case. This brief overview will start with a look at the list identified by the WGIG in 2005, which in many ways was the first (and arguably only) international and political formulation and is at the basis of the Internet Governance Forum’s (IGF) work and approach (and hence the UN’s). This will then be complemented by a few key taxonomies and / or overviews from the academic literature.
The WGIG, set up by the UN Secretary General, as mentioned above, was the core of a UN process to address questions around internet governance and hence in its 2005 report also set-out to identify “critical internet resources”. However, possibly reflecting the complexity of the issue and the challenge of the multilateral process, there is no clear articulation by the WGIG of what these critical resources are. First of all, from the four public policy areas identified by the WGIG in its report for attention, one consists of, “Issues relating to infrastructure and the management of critical Internet resources, including administration of the domain name system and Internet protocol addresses (IP addresses), administration of the root server system, technical standards, peering and interconnections, telecommunications infrastructure, including innovative and convergent technologies, as well as multilingualization. These issues are matters of direct relevance to Internet governance and fall within the ambit of existing organizations with responsibility for these matters.” (2005, p. 5).
The second area identified in the report by the WGIG consists of, “Issues relating to the use of the Internet, including spam, network security and cybercrime. While these issues are directly related to Internet governance, the nature of global cooperation required is not well defined. “(ibid, p. 5). The distinction between the two categories seems arbitrary and largely based on the perception of possible governance solutions. Here it needs to be kept in mind that the WGIG largely had a perspective that multinational (e.g. UN) governance was needed for specific internet governance aspects and in particular the tasks managed by ICANN and other US stakeholders.
The other two clusters of governance issues identified by the WGIG in its report consists of “broader” issues (e.g. intellectual property rights or trade) which are (to be) managed by other organizations and Internet governance issues related specifically to the developmental aspects (ibid, p. 5). Noteworthy with both these clusters is how the WGIG felt that these could be separated out into different types of issues.
The report then goes on to identify, “… the issues of highest priority” (ibid, p. 5). It is not articulated by the WGIG which issues belong to which cluster, nor which issues are to be considered covering or dealing with “critical internet resources”. The thirteen issues identified are: a) Administration of the root zone files and system; b) Interconnection costs; c) Internet stability, security and cybercrime; d) Spam; e) Meaningful participation in global policy development; f) Capacity-building; g) Allocation of domain names; h) IP addressing; i) Intellectual property rights (IPR); j) Freedom of expression; k) Data protection and privacy rights; l) Consumer rights; and m) Multilingualism (ibid, pp. 5-8).
What can be discerned with regards to key internet infrastructure from the above list by the WGIG? From the initial quote above – related to the policy areas - it could be understood that the WGIG considers the critical internet resources to be the domain name system administration, the IP addresses, the root server system, technical standards, interconnection, telecommunications infrastructure, innovative and convergent technologies as well as multilingualization. This would be a very wide definition, and, more concerning, a somewhat vague one. “innovative and convergent technologies” is open to wide interpretation, as are “standards”. While in the later breakdown of specific issues the report does not address the question of “standards” this would clearly need further discussion and reflection. Some standards used on the internet (such as the TCP/IP mentioned previously) do need some form of joint agreement and governance, for others (that might be developed in a commercially proprietary context) this might not be the case. And should all “telecommunications infrastructure” be considered and governed under internet governance? Furthermore, the list of issues identified does include some related to the core of managing the internet, while others are arguably secondary (e.g. dealing with spam, consumer rights, or multilingualism). Finally, it is interesting to note that with regards to some of the issues listed – for example data – the WGIG showed foresight (keep in mind that Myspace and what was to become Facebook were only founded in 2003 and that the concept of “big data” had only just entered the lexicon).
Mueller, in his “Networks and States”, builds on the WGIG report’s conception of critical internet resources. He notes that, “… the issues connected to critical Internet resources continue to widen.” (2013, p. 216). And indeed, many of the issues identified by the WGIG did not get solved – as much as they can be solved to everyone’s satisfaction – and more issues were added to the agenda as the importance and technical complexity of the internet increased. The ICANN debate was impacted by cybersecurity issues (e.g. the Snowden revelations) and the DNS questions were impacted by evolving technological changes (ibid, p. 216). Before looking at the resources that Mueller identifies (like the WGIG report, he approaches this via issues) it is important to look at his overview of the key current internet governance institutions.
Mueller identifies the IETF, the Internet Society (ISOC), the Regional Internet Registries (RIR’s), and ICANN as the core institutions (ibid, p. 217). The ISOC was formed by several members of the IETF in 1992, give more structure to the informal working groups that were providing much of the governance for the internet but also to support the IETF if the various projects and agencies that were supporting much of internet development in the early stages might end (or if the needs were to grow). By 1995 the ISOC became more (formally) structured, developed a relationship with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and it now forms with the IETF one of the main forums where technical and policy discussions on a range of topics related to the internet and its governance take place.
Mueller highlights 13 issues with regards to critical internet resources: a) address resources; b) IPv4 address scarcity; c) the “next generation” internet; d) routing security and the RIR’s; e) addresses and states; f) domain name industry regulation; g) multilingual domain names and ccTLDs; h) securing the DNS; i) state authority and ICANN; j) nation-states and internet public policy; k) the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC); l) unilateral globalism (i.e., role of the US); and the “affirmation of commitments” (ibid, pp. 221- 249). In addition to the similarity of the issues to those raised in the WGIG report, noteworthy is the focus on really the nuts and bolts of the internet and how these technical elements have essentially remained the same in a fast-moving sector. As Mueller himself notes, “This analysis will make it clear that domain names and IP addresses, while certainly not the whole of Internet governance, constitute an important part of it that intersects crucially with the other policy domains. Likewise, routing and interconnection, which are almost pure forms of networked governance, constitute the real core of how Internet service is provided.” (ibid, p. 221).
Noteworthy update from the WGIG report is the specific highlighting of the RIRs. According to Mueller, “After years of relative obscurity, the RIRs now find themselves on the front lines of global Internet governance. They are facing several transformational policy issues: (1) the need to manage scarcity in Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addresses; (2) the need to migrate to a new Internet Protocol; (3) intensifying pressure to make the Internet’s routing system more secure and controllable; and (4) pressures to use IP addresses as a basis for law enforcement.” (ibid, pp. 221-222). Each of these issues is too complex to address at this point (some will be returned to later on), though it is useful to briefly touch on the new Internet Protocol (IPv6) as this is cross-cutting and illustrates today’s governance of critical internet infrastructure.
Summarized, IPv6 will allow for more internet addresses to be able to be created (there is currently a shortage), but IPv6 is not “backwards compatible” (i.e. the two protocols cannot work on / with each other) so both will have to operate in parallel (ibid, p. 224). Needless to say, whatever final solutions will be found, these will involve costs for network operators. One can imagine the potential difficulty of two internets running in parallel; even more so with the advent of the IoT where it is expected that machines communicate with each other at least in part over the internet in order for things to function normally. As a result of the informal and unstructured nature of internet governance there is no clear process for decision-making or global procedure for implementation.
Denardis is a prolific researcher and author in the domain of internet governance. For the purposes of this section, I will focus on her 2014 book (The Global War for Internet Governance), a 2012 paper (Hidden Levers of Internet Control: An infrastructure-based theory of Internet governance) and a 2015 paper written with Raymond (Multistakeholderism: anatomy of an inchoate global institution). Using multistakeholderism as an approach to understand internet governance is at the core of Denardis’ approach (Denardis 2014, pp. 226-227). As a result, it is best to start by unpacking the concept in Denardis’ work and then looking at her approach to critical or core internet resources and functions.
According to Raymond and Denardis, “We define multistakeholderism as two or more classes of actors engaged in a common governance enterprise concerning issues they regard as public in nature, and characterized by polyarchic authority relations constituted by procedural rules.” (2015, p. 573). The term “polyarchic” refers to Dahl and Lindblom’s concept of competition amongst elites / leaders for the support of the public / masses (Von der Mull 1977). In the case of internet governance, the competition is not among political elites in the traditional sense, but between government institutions, private sector actors, and a range of technology experts and platforms. As Denardis notes, “Therefore, a question such as ‘who should control the Internet, the United Nations or some other organization’ makes no sense whatsoever. The appropriate question involves determining what is the most effective form of governance in each specific context. A constantly shifting balance of powers between private industry, international technical governance institutions, governments, and civil society has characterized contemporary Internet governance approaches. This balance of powers is often called ‘multistakeholderism’. (2014, pp. 226-227).
The evolution of the internet and its governance has resulted (so far) in limited participation by states in the development of frameworks for its governance and a strong role for technical and commercial drivers of solutions or compromises and a kind of ‘multistakeholderism by default’ (Raymond and Denardis 2015, p. 585). Attempts to put this into a more formal and state-centric framework (such as the UN’s WGIG process) have had little influence on actual internet governance (ibid, p. 587). Indeed, Denardis has argued that there is now a form of competition of what type of multistakeholderism should lead internet governance: widely diffused, state-centric, or private sector led (2014, p. 228).
Infrastructure is important to the internet even though Denardis examines all dimensions of internet governance. Denardis states that that, “The Internet has a complex technical architecture beneath the layer of applications and content and generally out of public view. This architecture includes a considerable ecosystem of Internet governance technologies, meaning the digital systems and processes inherently designed to keep the Internet operational.” (2012, p. 721).
In their article, Raymond and Denardis present a “disaggregated Internet governance taxonomy” in which one “functional area” is defined as “Control of ‘critical Internet Resources” (2015, p. 590). A range of tasks are listed under this: a) Central oversight of names and numbers; b) Technical design of IP addresses; c) New top-level domain approval; d) Domain name assignment; e) Authorization of root zone file changes; f) IP address distribution (allocation / assignment); g) Management of root zone file; h) Autonomous systems number distribution; i) Operating Internet root servers; and j) Resolving DNS queries (ibid, p. 590). Here we can see the similarity with the issues identified both by the WGIG and Mueller.
Noteworthy is that Raymond and Denardis do not include “Protocol number assignment” under the list of critical internet resources but rather under “setting standards” (ibid, p. 590). This has of course been one of the important but contested tasks under the responsibility of ICANN / IANA. Moreover, as the authors themselves point out, elements of internet governance are not governed by a multistakeholder framework (ibid, p. 594).
In her book, Denardis addresses some salient points of concern regarding the governance of the internet’s core. She highlights the tension between commercial and technical interests, the challenge faced by emerging markets with regards to interconnection, and the role interconnection points can play as points of control over the internet (2014, pp. 122-130). The role of the US with regards to ICANN and the root zone file has already been discussed. However, it is important that later on in her book Denardis does point out that, “Internet interconnection, because of its enormous public interest role is a critical part of privatized Internet governance… Interest in interconnection regulation and proposals for government oversight of pricing structures will likely continue to be a central Internet governance concern between content companies, incumbent telecommunications providers, and governments with an interest in particular forms of interconnection monetization” (ibid, p. 226).
The rise in importance of financial and private commercial interests is particularly noteworthy, and likely to continue. Denardis goes on to conclude that, “Coordination and administration necessary to keep the Internet operational require huge financial investment and commitments. Private industry not only performs many aspects of Internet governance, it also funds much of Internet governance, whether Internet exchange points, infrastructure security, network management, and the business models that sustain standardization and critical resource administration.” (ibid, p. 243). This goes beyond simply questions of access to the internet, as private actors are more and more also playing – through infrastructure control- a role in governing expression and intellectual property governance on the internet (Denardis 2012, pp. 734-735).
For Dutton, another seminal author in the area of internet governance, when defining internet governance, “A narrowly defined perspective revolves around the governance of specific, critical Internet resources.” (2015, p. 17). In that paper Dutton does not provide an explicit listing of what he deems to be “critical internet resources”, his discussion of the origins of the debate on internet governance does raise many of the issues mentioned by the previous reports and authors (i.e. ICANN functions, DNS / DNS root, IP addresses, and core protocols) (ibid, pp. 17-18). In an earlier paper, based on comments by Steve Crocker, Dutton laid-out “layers” of internet standards and protocols laid out three layers: “core infrastructure” (routing of data packets; address assignment, domain name translation), application protocols (ranging from the technical ones that assign ports that computers do to more known ones like those managing e-mail), and “telecommunications carrier protocols and standards” (core protocols such as the IP standards) (Dutton and Peltu 2005, p. 9).
13.05.2020, Niamey, Niger.
 It should be noted that, since Mueller’s book has been published, “transition mechanisms” are being developed and implemented by some operators and / or those hosting websites. Some of these are still at the draft stage and being discussed by the IETF.
 Some would argue that the US not participating in the WGIG process was the main issue.
 Full overview taxonomy in annex.
For some reason, I’m not sure why, I had to think of Binyavanga Wainaina. He was a Kenyan author (died last year), known internationally mainly by wining the Cain Prize in 2002 and his 2005 Granta essay (or rather, “satirical article”), “How to Write About Africa”. The essay made a huge impression on me, both because of its subject and its style.
Binyavanga, arguably, died way too young and never got to write his great novel. Yet his presence in the media and in other writing formats, to me, make him an exceptional African artist and intellectual. Dealing, as an African, with issues such as HIV and homosexuality, only making him politically and socially significant as well. He discussed all of this candidly in an interesting interview with the Guardian.
Issues around identity (in particular the social and collective components of identity) very much interest me. Hannah Arendt of course is particularly interesting from this perspective, but so is Binyavanga Wainaina.
05.05.2020, Niamey, Niger.
Online encampment of A. S. Barry. Disparate and not-so-disparate thoughts on international relations, development, writing, and life.