[discuss] Time to be more precise about Internet Governance

Milton L Mueller mueller at syr.edu
Thu Jan 2 17:59:07 UTC 2014

I've finally gotten a chance to read Brian Carpenter's contribution to the debate.
The article makes some good points but unfortunately the author's credibility plummeted to zero when he applied his notion of 'technical coordination' to a specific instance - ICANN - and announced flatly that ICANN "has little or nothing to do with governance. ICANN administers technical resources..."

This claim is not only factually incorrect, it makes his entire argument self-destruct.

ICANN is an economic regulator of the domain name industry. This is not a debatable proposition. One simply has to observe what it does, read its legal and policy outputs, and attend its meetings to understand this.

ICANN licenses registries and registrars and, via its contractual licensing authority, it governs their conduct in ways that affect privacy rights, trademark rights, control of the supply of the resource, the number of competitors in the market, the price of services, as well as minor forms of technical coordination. This is not pure technical coordination, it is the use of technical resources for regulatory purposes.

Yes, Brian, there is a conceptual distinction between technical decisions and policy decisions (although engineers can only tell you how to optimize given some desired objectives, they cannot decide _what_ to optimize, as Brian himself seems to recognize).  But I have explained in several prior messages how common it is for governance institutions to gain control of the administration of technical resources in order to regulate conduct or enforce policy. Radio spectrum management being the clearest and most obvious example, but I could provide dozens of others.

For some reason, Brian and others keep ignoring this argument, neither refuting it or engaging with it, just pretending it does not exist. I am not sure why. I guess it does not fit into their worldview. But one of the benefits of inter-stakeholder dialogue like this is that prejudices and fallacies that have credence in, say, the technical community can be challenged and exposed as such by other groups. Likewise, the technical community can puncture the shared delusions of civil society or governments.

I would like to invite Brian to attend the London ICANN meeting. I am an educator, after all. I will give him a free guided tour of what really happens at an ICANN meeting. I will take him to several constituency meetings in the GNSO, to the GAC, the public forums, to working group meetings. There, he will learn that 95% of what goes on there is policy and governance, and perhaps 5% involves technical coordination or discussion.

The important point here is not that Brian made an incorrect assertion, but the significance of this linkage for the broader "Internet governance" discussion. The reason we are having a debate about Internet governance is that various political forces would like to link their  policy objectives to the administration of technical resources so that they can be controlled and enforced more effectively. Full stop.

The basic division in this struggle is between open, decentralized and transnational governance institutions and nation-state based institutions.

You will not preserve or protect and free, open and viable Internet by pretending that Internet governance does not exist. You will not preserve the independence of the native, private sector based internet governance institutions by pretending that they only do "technical coordination" and that policy is a different and disconnected world. That strategy, being based on a fallacy, is unsustainable and will only backfire. ICANN  is a perfect example of how it will backfire. We have a global policy-making institution. Our object should be to make the policies good policies, and to facilitate full-fledged representation and participation of all affected interests.

The only serious and honest way to defend ICANN against ITU or UN-based governance institutions is to argue that bottom-up policy making rooted in voluntary or independent associations of individuals is superior to nation-state based governance. The main reason is that requirement for globalized, as opposed to territorial, policy and coordination, but can also argue that individuals in these MS institutions can represent their own interests more directly and more justly than states.


From: discuss-bounces at 1net.org [mailto:discuss-bounces at 1net.org] On Behalf Of Jorge Amodio
Sent: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 12:39 AM
To: Brian E Carpenter
Cc: discuss at 1net.org
Subject: Re: [discuss] Time to be more precise about Internet Governance

> Brian's thesis seems to be that Internet (or
> Cross-Border Information) Governance is by definition a
> system that governments must be involved in,
It's hard to imagine a debate about societal issues that
governments are not involved in. I have no difficulty
imagining technical administration without governmental
involvement. My thesis is that using a grand word like
'governance' to describe technical administration is a source
of confused thinking. If a word is understood in different
ways by different people, IMHO it's a good idea not to use
the word at all.

Or make it very clear about the context and what you exactly mean by using it, like the corporate governance of ICANN does not equal Internet Governance.


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