Keeping Internet open and free – Low Jia-Rong

Keeping Internet open and free – Low Jia-Rong

Online users tend not to focus on issues related to governance on the Net because the Internet has not failed us. It has always worked.

However, if we want to keep the open and free Internet that we have today, we need to be aware of issues surrounding its governance.

Governance of the Internet is not led by governments or any single stakeholder, but by multiple stakeholders, including individuals, companies, organisations and governments.

No single stakeholder or type of stakeholder can dominate decisions, which is what has preserved the Internet’s openness.

At its broadest scope, governance of the Internet involves managing the technical architecture of cyberspace, such as ensuring that anyone who enters a Web address anywhere in the world (for example, http://www.todayonline.com) would be directed to its corresponding site, defined by its IP address (for example, 202.172.236.69).

This system of matching IP numbers to Web addresses — called the Domain Name System — is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), through a contract with the United States government.

Through this contract, the US government has traditionally acted as a steward of the key functions of the Internet’s unique identifiers. However, a year ago, the US government announced that it would cede this stewardship to the global community.

Since then, groups of individuals representing different Internet communities around the world have come together organically — clocking in thousands of hours of volunteer work time — to prepare proposals on how (and who) will take over the oversight of the Internet’s key functions, while keeping the Internet open, secure and unified.

After more than a year’s discussion and collaboration, a consolidated proposal is expected to be published today for public comment.

For the next 40 days, any member of the public from any country, even in an individual capacity, can review the draft proposal and submit feedback, comments and even raise concerns if you find the proposal lacking.

All submissions are recorded and will be considered before the proposal is finalised by the working group.

This proposal will then be submitted to the US government for review and approval.

And by September next year, we can expect to see history made as the Internet becomes fully privatised without the risk of any government or governments capturing it.

Oversight of the Internet

What are the issues and themes we need to consider in governance of the Internet?

First, it is clear that the Internet has to stay. For this to happen, we need to ensure the Internet’s continued global expansion and the benefits it provides.

Second, big or small — whether governments, multinational firms, small or medium enterprises, or individual users — we all have a stake in this.

The Internet has empowered global communications and interaction among individuals, enabling a global audience; businesses have come to realise that they can no longer miss out on having an online presence for the same reason.

Almost US$8 trillion (S$10.9 trillion) exchange hands each year through e-commerce and the continued success of e-commerce is dependent on one global, secure, stable and interoperable Internet.

A recent Boston Consulting Group report showed that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that leverage the Internet see an average 7% increase in annual revenue, and are 50 per cent more likely to be exporters.

Third, we all have a say in the Internet’s future. Conversations revolving around the governance of the Internet are inherently democratic, allowing for any stakeholder to participate and contribute.

However, how many in the Asia-Pacific are truly participating in these conversations? The region has more than half of all Internet users globally.

Most of the next billion Internet users are undoubtedly going to be from this region. Huge concentrations of SMEs are going online to do business, so the incentive is there.

However, while governments, particularly China’s and India’s, are participating in these conversations, other stakeholder groups in the region, including some developing nations’ governments and local businesses, continue to be price-takers.

To be sure, the quiet acceptance is understandable in some less developed countries. The terms of the debate often appear very technical and, in the short run, very little is likely to change for most stakeholders.

But these conversations address the fundamental issue of who has oversight over the Internet’s key functions. So how can we be sure that things will remain status quo if we are not at the negotiating table or, at the very least, know who is representing us, speaking up for us?

At ICANN Asia Pacific Hub, we recognise that there is a need to build capacity to understand the “current affairs” of the Internet in order to participate actively.

This is an area that we are working on with all cross sections of society, building networks with different stakeholder groups to update one another on developments regarding Internet governance, and co-organising Webinars and workshops to build capacity and understanding of Internet governance issues.

The democratic nature of the governance of the Internet means that your voice, however small you think it may be, will always be heard. Not all the conversations are technical.

For example, related to the issue of transitioning the oversight of the Internet’s key functions is a conversation on ICANN’s accountability — how can the man in the street hold ICANN accountable in the absence of a contract with the US government.

We also recognise the stakes involved: The future of our Internet and whether it reflects our region’s interests depend on whether regional stakeholders can work together to enable an ecosystem for the Asia-Pacific to participate and contribute actively to the current affairs of the Internet, while being a keen online user. – Today Online, August 3, 2015.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

The original article appeared on The Malaysian Insider here.

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