The Internet may be regarded as an interaction environment where conflicts among participating individuals are likely to rise. In the present, we briefly go through the main bodies which are meant to avoid – and where present, solve – such conflicts, in the general context of the governance and use of the Internet.

Interaction among individuals. “An international information network linking computers, accessible to the public via modem links”: so Oxford Dictionary defines Internet. Interaction among different people is implied when we are referring to the Internet: contents uploaded and downloaded simultaneously; media being sent and received; websites continuously being accessed.

As in such context conflicts are likely to arise, throughout time proper bodies were established so as to try to create some international and inter-governmental standards to allow people and organizations access the Internet in a safe and smooth way. This is what we refer to as “Internet governance”, which is defined in the Tunis agenda as the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision- making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet(1).

History of Internet governance. The history of Internet governance reflects the struggle between national and across-the-board interests. Focusing on the history of the Internet, it can be noticed that at the beginning the main concern was on setting internationally recognized and adopted standards so as to allow a good operation of such a wide system; further in time, attention gradually turned towards who should detain the control of this powerful resource. As a result, it was necessary a series of meeting concerning Internet governance: the first World Summit on the Information Society (also referred to as the WSIS(2)) was held in Geneva in 2003, followed by another in Tunis in 2005. It was in the former that the main principles about Internet governance were stated: The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations. Also, it was right during these two summits that the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), about which more shall be said further on in the present, was conceived.

Additional important steps in the process of defining how the Internet is supposed to be ruled, are to be found in the World Conference on International Telecommunications held in 2012 (WCIT-12) and the International Telecommunication Union Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 (PP-14). The former was mainly concerned with reviewing “the current International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), which serve […] to facilitate international interconnection and interoperability of information and communication services, as well as ensuring their efficiency and widespread public usefulness and availability”(3). The latter is one of the reiterative ITU meetings to “decide on the future role of the organization, thereby determining the organization’s ability to influence and affect the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) worldwide”(4). Thus PP-14 was not only concerned with Internet governance issues, but also, and foremost, with a variety of telecommunication-related topics ranging, from improving the efficiency of the Radio Regulations Board – a body whose duties are about setting standards for radio communications, frequency allocations and so forth – to discussing the bringing into operation of the Colombian satellite system “SATCOL”(5).

Pursuing a multi-stakeholder Internet governance policy. Technical standardization, resource allocation and assignment and human conduct on the Internet(6) may be regarded as the main objectives that shall be pursued when talking about Internet governance and the role of national governments involved in this. A number of different organizations – either private or government-run – are directly taking part into this rather delicate task.

As far as the technical standardization of the Internet is regarded, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – more straightforwardly, ICANN – is worth mentioning. Basically, its main task is managing the unambiguous allocation of identifiers to allow a normal operation of the network. However, ICANN is continuously taking care of important duties: intellectual property, privacy, law enforcement and cybersecurity. Until 2009, it was run by the U.S. Department of Commerce, despite its worldwide influence. Since that year, the ICANN has been operating as a private sector organization rather than a governmental one. This corporation has been increasingly sought to by governments as a good mediation body for their interests in the Internet.

The works of ICANN are reinforced by other non-private, mainly-governmental entities: essential to the activities of the ICANN is the Governmental Advisory Committee(7). The GAC, whose importance mainly lies in being a mediation body, is a consulting organization: interacting with individual governments, policies or laws are the constitutive duties of its mission and GAC’ advises are not binding for ICANN.

Particularly related to the purposes for which the present is being written, is the Internet Governance Forum (8), established in 2006 by the United Nations’ WSIS. As the name itself suggests, the IGF is meant to be a free discussion space, with no formal participants, whose purpose is providing each individual (States or organizations) participating in it a “place” where to freely and according to well-defined conduct rules discuss with other participants about a wide selection of subjects related to the Internet governance. Not differently of the GAC, what emerges from the IGF is not binding for the ICANN, the decision power being anyway completely upon it.

The burning issue of copyright. In 1967 as part of the UN specialized agencies, the World Intellectual Property Organization, headquartered in Geneva and currently participated by 188 member states (9), was created. Widely focused on matters concerning intellectual property in general, it shall be pointed out that in 1996 a treaty, namely the WIPO Copyright Treaty, was signed by the member states of the organization. It has become fully operational only since 2002 though. The WIPO-CT places itself in a position of further implementation of the previous Berne Convention (10), since it takes into account the technological developments of the century and provides authors with protection against unauthorized diffusion of their works even over the Internet.

Decentralization and co-ordination. The governance and use of the Internet have continuously to deal with two opposite forces: on the one side, a decentralization of its control, being often up to individual national governments. Nonetheless, on the other side, much effort has been made so far today to co-ordinate such different entities, driving them towards harmonized and shared policies concerning the ruling and enjoyment of what has been defined by many “the network of network”, for its peculiarity of being an environment of interaction among groups of people, in turn interacting among themselves.

  1. Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, November 18, 2005, WSIS-05/TUNIS/DOC6(Rev.1)-E, p. 6, available at http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs2/tunis/off/6rev1.pdf.
  2. For further information, visit http://www.itu.int/net/wsis/index.html.
  3. So as stated in the Conference Overview on the ITU WCIT-12 website, accessible at http://www.itu.int/en/wcit-12/Pages/overview.aspx.
  4. So as stated in the ITU PP-14 “About us” section of the ITU PP-14 website, accessible at http://www.itu.int/en/plenipotentiary/2014/Pages/default.aspx
  5. For more information about the matters addressed during the PP-14, see http://www.itu.int/en/plenipotentiary/2014/newsroom/highlights/Pages/issue11.aspx. For further information about the SATCOL system,
  6. So as stated by the Internet Governance Project. To find out more about the IGP, see http://www.intergovernance.org
  7. For further information about the GAC, see https://gacweb.icann.org/display/gacweb/Governmental+Advisory+Committee.
  8. For further information about the IGF, see http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/.
  9. For further information about the WIPO, see http://www.wipo.int/portal/en/index.html.
  10. First signed in Berne in 1886, and further revised in following meetings, “deals with the protection of works and the rights of their authors” providing them “with the means to control how their works are used, by whom, and on what terms”. This is a how this treaty is defined on the WIPO website. For further information, see http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ip/berne/.

Giacomo Piccoli

Sources

Other than the references quoted at the bottom of each page, additional sources consulted for the present are as follows.

  • Möller, Internet Governance in the OCSE Region: Media Freedom, Human Security and the Multi-Stakeholder Approach, Chapter 2 section 1 The Internet Governance Process, in AA.VV., Internet governance and the information society, Eleven international publishing, Utrecht 2008
    Consulted for brief information about the multi-stakeholder approach to the governance of the Internet.
  • Malcolm, Multi-stakeholder governance and the Internet Governance Forum, Terminus Press, Perth 2008, p. 39 onwards.
    Consulted for brief information about the organizations involved in setting the rules of Internet governance.
  • https://www.icann.org
    Website of ICANN.
    Consulted for general information about their duties and objectives pursued.