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U.S. Control of the Internet

Problems Facing the Movement to International Governance

Prabir Purkayastha (prabirp [at] and Rishab Bailey (rishab.bailey [at] are associated with the Knowledge Commons collective, New Delhi and with the Just Net Coalition. The authors would like to thank Richard Hill and Felicity Ruby for their comments and help in writing this article.

After the Snowden revelations, Internet governance has emerged from relative obscurity, involving only a small technical community, to occupy the center stage of human rights discourse and international relations. For those who have only a hazy idea of how the Internet functions, it is particularly difficult to translate their concerns—freedom of speech, privacy, social and economic justice, and protecting and advancing democratic rights—to Internet governance.

Everyone agrees that digital technologies, including the Internet, are transformative technologies. They reorder society as a whole, as well as relations between society and individuals. But the potential—providing a megaphone to everybody who wants to speak, to provide a TV studio in every home—has not been fully realized. A case in point: instead of the democratizing potential of the Internet, a few global corporations have created monopolies that are much bigger than those we have seen before, and this has happened in just two decades. What does this mean, for instance, for the plurality of media voices? We know that Internet advertising revenue in the United States, having previously overtaken the print media, has now overtaken even TV network advertising revenues.1 How did monopolies on such a scale happen, and happen so quickly? Does it have to do with the nature of the Internet? Or its architecture and governance?

If we talk of Internet governance, we need to understand what it is we are governing. On the one hand, the Internet is an infrastructure. On the other hand, it is a broad collection of services and applications.2 In addition, there are several ways of looking at Internet infrastructure and hence its governance. There is the narrow technical view of the Internet as the interconnection of various networks. In this view Internet governance relates to the control over the resources that makes these interconnections possible: critical Internet resources such as domain names, IP addresses (equivalent to telephone numbers in the telephone system), and the protocols through which the communications takes place.

A larger view of the Internet would add to this narrow view of interconnections the complex of networks and the different pieces of software and hardware that run the entire infrastructure. In this larger view, the telecommunications network on which the Internet services run would also be a part of the Internet. Governance then would involve control and regulation of all the elements that constitute the Internet, including its telecommunications layer. While these are elements that constitute the basic infrastructure of the Internet, the functions that the Internet performs are much wider. They comprise the whole range of services that are provided by Internet companies when we log online. Separately, there are the computers (including tablets, smart phones, and other intelligent devices) through which we connect to the Internet.

The Internet today has become the global marketplace, the repository of knowledge, the global media, and an essential means of communication. Each of these has enormous social significance. Not surprisingly, the development of the Internet has been compared to the communication revolution ushered in by the printing press.3 It is this combination of services and infrastructure that affects us. So Internet governance, in the broadest sense, means not only the actual layers that provide the communication system, but also the services—all the transactions that are performed by using the application layer that runs on the cloud computing systems on the Internet as well as on our computers.

But there are contesting ideologies that drive different perceptions of the issues salient to Internet governance. The dominant ideology, promoted by the United States, is that of “free and open” Internet—free from all regulations and government control (except of course those regulations and controls imposed by the United States itself, such as copyright and prohibitions on online gambling). Contesting perceptions hold that this dominant ideology does not address the relationship between the control of these resources with the concept of the larger public good, or even public utility. This range of ideologies, and their areas of contestation, came sharply to the fore in the NETmundial Conference held in San Paulo in April 2014.4 Originally called by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to address the blatant violations of sovereignty and privacy by the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States, it also became about contesting models of Internet governance.

The Snowden Revelations: A Loss of Innocence

The Edward Snowden revelations, published in leading newspapers around the world since June 2013, marked a watershed moment in how the Internet is viewed and governed. Since this moment, the Internet, hitherto looked upon as beneficial tool, has been treated with an entirely new level of suspicion.5

While the popular media has, by and large, focused on issues surrounding the invasions of privacy by the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, there is a far more important issue at stake—control. The Snowden revelations have highlighted something rarely spoken about in the popular press or in political circles: the reality that the Internet is a centralized tool used to sustain economic and political dominance in a globalized world.6

When Snowden first met Laura Poitras and Glen Greenwald, two of the journalists working with him, he told them that the documents they would see would not only reveal surveillance on an unimaginable scale, but would also demonstrate the economic and political hegemony of the United States.

The list of targets exposed by Snowden is almost endless. Political targets include heads of state such as Angela Merkel, Dilma Rousseff, Gerhard Schroeder, and Enrique Pena Nieto; numerous embassies; UN offices; and public institutions and international negotiations.7 The list of commercial/economic targets is bound to grow as more documents are made public from Snowden’s trove. We already know of the United States and Canada spying on the Brazilian oil company Petrobras and the Ministry of Mines and Energy (which were involved in the auction of oil fields of the coast of Brazil), and the weakening and hacking of the SWIFT network (which is used by finance majors such as VISA and Mastercard for international settlements).8 This is in addition to spying on the EU competition commissioner; spying by Australia on Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) during negotiations regarding oil exploration rights in the East Timor sea; and, rather strangely, spying on a U.S. law firm that was advising the Indonesian government on trade disputes (on shrimp and clove cigarettes) with the United States.9

The most commonly used argument to justify mass surveillance of the kind undertaken by the NSA (as well as its British equivalent, the General Communications Headquarters—GCHQ) is the protection of civilians against political violence (or terrorism). This was indeed the default argument made when the Snowden revelations were first published. Various U.S. government officials stated that information gleaned through mass surveillance had been used to stop more than fifty terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad. These statements did not stand for long: two U.S. senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, scrutinized confidential documents of the intelligence agencies and reported that the collection of phone records had played “little or no role” in the disruption of terrorist plots.10 There was a role played, however; the benefit, it became clear, lay elsewhere.

The European Union had earlier charged that information from Signal Intelligence programs (notably the Echelon program) was used to benefit U.S. companies.11 And big global U.S. corporations, such as AT&T, Verizon, Microsoft and Google, have now been deeply implicated in the NSA’s dragnet surveillance.

There is little doubt that most countries today carry out mass surveillance of their citizens. What makes the Five Eyes mass surveillance program different is its sheer scale. The Five Eyes is a supranational surveillance alliance dominated by the United States; though formally called the UKUSA Agreement, it came into existence in 1946 between the United States and the United Kingdom, and was later extended to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The surveillance program has compromised every layer of the Internet: the telecom layer, both at the fiber optic backbone level and at the Internet Service provider (ISP) level; major Internet companies partnering the NSA, such as Google, Facebook, and Yahoo; software companies such as Microsoft, who have given access to the computer systems of their consumers through backdoors and other security holes; and, finally, hardware companies such as CISCO, Apple, and others.12 The technical community—the supposed protector of freedom on the Internet—has been implicated in weakening encryption standards.

This has been greatly facilitated by the United States being the major hub of the global fiber optic network, followed by the United Kingdom, where a major part of the trans-Atlantic cables land.13 The United States has used its position as a global hub to force various fiber optic network operators to give them physical access to their networks in order to obtain necessary U.S. licenses.14 The AT&T Folsom Street case made public how AT&T was giving NSA access to its cable network.15 This access has now been replicated for other network operators who have landing stations in the United States through specific agreements. As the bulk of global voice and Internet traffic pass through the United States, its surveillance agencies automatically have access to all this traffic.16

As if all this was not enough, the NSA has more tricks up its sleeve. Its Tailored Access Operations group can access specific machines through software or even hardware “implants.”17 Computers have been intercepted by introducing transit and spy devices that are then used to tap into the systems. The estimate is that up to four million machines could have been compromised in this way. In effect, these machines can then act as proxies of the NSA, and even mount attacks on other networks with the NSA claiming total deniability.

In other words, instances of surveillance which have no security concerns whatsoever have clear economic and political significance. The fact that the online sphere—both in terms of infrastructure/hardware and applications/services—is dominated by U.S. multinational corporations is an important aspect of this exercise of hegemony.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of the surveillance that Snowden has revealed has to do with the Computer Network Exploitations (CNEs). These are software implants in other countries’ networks that have the ability not only to tap into the data streams of these networks, but also to take these networks down—they are cyber-weapons that have been armed and can be activated with just a single command. Fifty thousand CNEs have been reported to have been implanted in the global telecom networks. A map showing the location of the CNEs is instructive—five countries have no CNEs in their networks.18 No prizes for guessing which are these five countries!

One of the most significant aspects of the Snowden disclosures which has not attracted adequate attention has to do with the cyber-attack targets that Obama has authorized—through Presidential Policy Directive 20.19 It implies that foreign networks have been penetrated and their security systems already compromised; vital infrastructure of other countries has been pretargeted and awaits only a command to trigger a cyber-attack.20 The United States has blocked all attempts to initiate a cyber-war treaty, arguing that such a treaty is not enforceable—while going ahead with its cyber-war preparations.21 This increases, radically, the risk of triggering an arms race in cyberspace and fracturing the Internet.

A complex and insidious relationship, which has appropriately been called the “Digital Industrial Security Complex” in some quarters (to indicate the proximity of the military industries, massive technology companies, and political processes), acts as a self-reinforcing structure. With powerful political processes bent on ensuring unregulated (or minimally regulated) access to global consumers, the unprecedented monopolies and concentration of media and telecommunication industries, and the threat of terrorism (used as a red herring to weaken civil liberties), it seems as if there is almost no way in which online space can be reclaimed.

To put it simply, the United States and its allies will spy on anything and anyone—using any means possible—if they perceive that this will enhance their political and economic interests. For the United States, international economic affairs comprise an intelligence issue. The NSA is an instrument intended to serve the interests of centralized political and economic power in Washington. The corporate interests colluding with the state are its special beneficiaries.

Another intriguing aspect of the Snowden revelations is confirmation that surveillance data—with its economic, social, and political implications—has become an international currency to be bartered between nations. This explains the race to try and establish mass surveillance capabilities in numerous countries across the world (including India). The new great game of information exchange has to be played by every nation—even if no country from the global South will ever be in a position to win.

In sum, Snowden has revealed that if left unchanged, current practices—of governance, business, and online activity—pose risks, not only to the privacy of citizens, but to the capacity of governments to protect what remains of their sovereignty, and to the ability of the global economic system (purportedly based on a complex of arms-length negotiated agreements) to function fairly and effectively. This is what Rousseff had pointed out in her speech last September in the United Nations, placing before the world body the urgent need for a new model of Internet governance. It is this call that subsequently led to the NETmundial Conference in Sao Paulo in April this year.

Internet Governance: The Background

This section will specifically address the control of the key critical resources of the Internet—the Domain Name System (DNS) and the protocols that make the Internet interoperable. Internet governance, in this narrow sense, essentially comprises two general requirements—policymaking and technical standardization.22 At the moment, policymaking regarding domain names takes place almost entirely through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Named and Numbers (ICANN). Policymaking regarding IP addresses takes place in the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), and the protocols are made in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). (But the overall allocation of IP addresses is performed by ICANN, which assigns large blocks to the RIRs.) The telecommunications infrastructure is managed under domestic laws of different countries, with the International Telecommunication Union acting as a global coordinator.

On the domain name system, we need to understand that this is high-value real estate, even if it is in the virtual world. The Internet has the potential to create an unlimited number of domain names: it is a part of the unlimited global commons that has been, or can be, created. ICANN’s powers to control DNS space exists by virtue of a U.S. enclosure of the digital commons, and its handover to ICANN. The development of the DNS system by the United States (and its control of the system through control of the authoritative master server) has permitted the enclosure of this global commons by virtue of a historical/first-mover advantage.23 At present, no framework gives legal rights to global top level domains (g-TLD’s)—to any of the regional or national registers. All the legal rights are derived through private contracts with ICANN, various registers, and the existing contract that ICANN has with the Department of Commerce—the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions contract.24 ICANN is currently operating the IANA function on the basis of this contract.

The DNS and the IP address system—the basis on which the interconnected, interoperable network runs—is, juridically speaking, controlled through ICANN.25 There are thirteen root servers with a “hidden” or “master” server which updates all thirteen public root servers.26 Together these servers act as the central repository of the Internet’s address book. The Master Server is operated by VeriSign Inc. (formerly Network Solutions Inc.), though it is subject to oversight by ICANN, and, ultimately, the U.S. Department of Commerce. The present procedure for modifying the authoritative root zone file is that the requests from TLD operators are received by ICANN, which forwards them to the Department of Commerce for approval.27 The Department of Commerce then transmits the approved requests to VeriSign, which edits and generates the new root zone file.

The unilateral control of the DNS system by the United States is problematic for a variety of reasons. The most important of these is that it enables the U.S. government to control the creation and deletion of online property. We have seen instances of the U.S. government or courts forcing registries the world over to remove domain names from the addressing system.28 This is what happened, for example, with Wikileaks and ‘.iq’ before the Iraq war.

The problem is not that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)—the body tasked with the IANA contract—routinely interferes with ICANN decisions. The control of the DNS system by the U.S. government means that it can be used in a U.S. version of permanent war based on global “national security” concerns to harm organizations and other countries. It is important to stress that the U.S. control over the DNS is not just through the Department of Commerce, but also through the U.S. judicial system, which has jurisdiction over ICANN and VeriSign.

The United States also continues to have technical and economic leverage over the digital ecosystem. What this means is that the bulk of billions of dollars of virtual real estate is “owned” by registries in the United States and other developed countries. Verisign has revenue of over a billion dollars for the g-TLD of .com, created by the U.S. enclosure of the global domain name system. ICANN currently generates revenue of about $400 million from the DNS system—all registrars have to give a part of the money they realize from sale of domains. (Registrars are retailers of domain names, registries are wholesalers.) It is a myth that the functions carried out by organizations such as IANA and ICANN are purely “technical” in nature. The day-to-day maintenance and administration of the DNS system is a technical matter—but the policies imposed for the management of the DNS space are public in nature. For example:

Control and regulation of property rights or the assignment of domain names: Issues of competition law, intellectual property etc. affect the community at large and require global political consensus. Notably, Section 6(1) (c) of ICANN’s bylaws recognize that ICANN does indeed perform public policy functions in requiring the Board to request and account for the advice of the Government Advisory Committee on such issues.29

Free speech: ICANN has instituted a mandatory dispute resolution policy that serves to limit critical speech.30 An analysis of case law under the Uniform Domain Name Resolution Policy (UDRP) demonstrates that “numerous complainants have used domain name challenges as part of an attempt to silence critics.”31 Further, ICANN policy prohibits anonymous ownership of websites.32

The historical development of the Internet has necessarily meant that the most influential Internet governance/standard setting organizations are first-world-centric. The numerous problems in the structure and functioning of these organizations include the following:

First, organizations such as ICANN, IETF, and Internet Society (ISOC) are not recognized “international organizations.” While this is less important in the case of the standard-setting organizations, it is crucial for an organization such as ICANN. As a U.S. corporation—subject to U.S. domestic law and various restrictive covenants and standard terms contained in its contractual arrangements with the U.S. government—ICANN lacks the basic immunities and privileges enjoyed by recognized international organizations.

Second, they are susceptible to corporate capture, particularly to the benefit of U.S. corporations. Neither are standard-setting organizations free from corporate control; the Interactive Architecture Board (IAB) and IETF are dominated by U.S. industry.33

Third, composition and attendance of these organizations is not sufficiently global or diverse in nature. Despite rules regarding geographic composition of the Boards of organizations such as The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), all these organizations are dominated—both in terms of actual membership, as well as in terms of participation in decision making roles—by people from the first world.34

Fourth, rule making continues to be haphazard and, on occasion, arbitrary. For instance, ICANN’s bylaws have been amended approximately twenty times, with various commentators stating that these changes merely reflect the composition of ICANN at the time.35 Decision-making procedures in technical organizations are susceptible to abuse both by governments and business interests due to their informal nature.

Though ICANN is bound, under California law, to give its board members access to its financial information, Karl Auerbach, an elected member from the North American users constituency, had to go to court before he was given such access. And while ICANN had initiated a process for direct global elections to its board, this was halted after just one trial in the early 2000s, largely due to the interests of entrenched players.

Fifth, these organizations contain self-perpetuating structures, lack true transparency and openness, and lack appropriate external independent review and accountability. For instance, despite frequent references to “consensus,” what this consensus constitutes, or how it comes about, is not clear. Self-selection or mutual nomination and interlocking members are common features of these organizations.

According to Auerbach “ICANN does not ‘assure the technical stability of the internet.’ Rather, ICANN dispenses commercial rights and privileges. In exchange for its largesse, ICANN obtains monopoly rents, significantly restricts legitimate and innovative business practices, and imposes expansive trademark protection well beyond what is required by any law of any nation.”36

The Neoliberal Multistakeholder Model: A Critique

A large part of the discourse prior to the NETmundial conference was centered around the issue of the best system for Internet governance. This has commonly been portrayed as a choice between a relatively undefined multistakeholder model, and a comparatively well-defined multilateral model recognized in International Law, in which a nation state is recognized as the representative of its citizens. The U.S. government had originally argued for a private-sector-led Internet governance model.37 At some point this appears to have morphed into the current “multistakeholder” model.38 The form of the multistakeholder model that developed in the ICANN is different from the well-known and accepted consultative process in which all stakeholders participate, but elected representatives still make the decisions. In ICANN, the governments have only an advisory role through the Government Advisory Committee. The exception of course is the U.S. government, which has oversight of ICANN through the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) contract and other agreements. To be accurate, it is a one-government-plus-private-sector-led Internet governance model that has existed until now. And this is what is now referred to as the multistakeholder model of Internet governance by the ICANN community.

The view of a nongovernment multistakeholder model has now given way even among some sections of the U.S. government to a stakeholder model that includes governments as stakeholders—but only as one among equals. A Wall Street Journal commentator, for instance, talks about the two U.S. government views of the multistakeholder model: “The Obama administration proposal (on IANA transition) would have treated other governments as equal stakeholders, turning the concept of private-sector self-governance on its head. Robert McDowell, a former commissioner at the Federal Communication Commission, pointed out that‘multi-stakeholder’ historically has meant no government, not many governments.’”39

Thus the private-sector-led Internet governance initially in vogue in U.S. documents is now postulated as a form of a multistakeholder model sans one stakeholder—the governments. Obviously, as long as the U.S. government was in control, keeping other governments out was a U.S. strategy. That is why the current IANA transition that the United States has proposed has the precondition of “no government control” of Internet governance.40

The view of the multistakeholder model embedded in the IANA transition offered by the Obama administration is—in our view—a neoliberal multistakeholder model.41 It demands that governments play little role in internet governance, and that any role they actually play be placed on an equal footing with other stakeholders, and decisions on all aspects of Internet governance be made through consensus. Any criticism of such a model, or discussions on the different roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders, are then labeled a multilateral or a statist model paving the way for repressive governments to capture the Internet. Such a binary formulation—multistakeholder versus multilateral—misses the fact that while some issues such as technical protocols can be worked out between various stakeholders through a consensual process (global standards are created in this way), the issues change when public policy is involved. Essentially, policy issues demand that a concept of public interest be introduced to override the sectoral interest of certain stakeholders.

The neoliberal multistakeholder model of decision making—with all stakeholders on an equal footing, and through consensus—does not take into account that stakeholders have differing interests. For example, corporations and consumers have obvious differences in objectives. This model, in effect, gives veto power to private corporations and denies public good or public interest. Such a model would allow the corporate stakeholder section to block any consumer interest regulation simply by not allowing consensus to form on the issue.

The problem with such a model also becomes apparent if we take examples from other sectors. In pharmaceuticals, for instance, there is agreement that all stakeholders, including pharmaceutical companies, should make decisions by consensus on issues such as safety or the pricing of drugs. If such a principle had indeed been followed for retrovirals in AIDS treatment, for example, it would have meant a death sentence for a large number of AIDs patients. Public interest demands that states regulate drug prices in the interests of their people; similarly, for the safety of drugs.

The key difference between governments and corporations is that the governments are accountable to their people (at least in political theory), while corporations are answerable to their shareholders. The primary driver of corporations is profit; for governments, avowedly, it is the good of its citizens (even if governments do not necessarily fulfill this responsibility). If the governments—in the sense of the state and not just the executive—fail in their duties to the citizens, it is possible for the people to change their governments, either through elections in electoral democracies or through other means, in response to the state’s failure to maintain the social contract. By extension, if the need of corporations for profit is in conflict with larger social interests, the state has the right as well as the obligation to regulate prices and the profits of corporations. (It is worth noting in this context that ICANN does regulate prices.) Similarly, policy issues such as the safety of consumers or the protection of the environment demand that the needs of the citizens override the interests of capital. This is the basis of regulating corporations and monopolies. For this reason, putting governments and corporations on an equal footing on all matters and privileging decision making through consensus means effectively giving up the state’s right to regulate private monopolies.

Net neutrality has been widely discussed in the context of Internet governance. It is an extension to the Internet of the well-known common carrier principle, which is to provide services to the public without discrimination. The underlying principle in net neutrality is that the carrier cannot discriminate between different sets of data packets “by user content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.”42 Again, net neutrality is a regulatory issue and cannot be expected to be achieved by consensus among various stakeholders.

The combination of intelligence agencies and large, global corporations has helped concentrate economic power and create large global monopolies on an unprecedented scale. The U.S. stewardship of the key Internet organizations has enabled the United States to ensure that there is no international regulation of the Internet, while allowing extraterritorial application of many of its own laws and regulations (or lack of laws and regulations, such as lack of general protection of data privacy). This has led to the emergence of global monopolies in this space.43 The Internet economy tends towards monopolization due to economies of scale and network effects. This means that global Internet companies can build Internet platforms that will allow bundling services—horizontal monopoly (Google, Microsoft). If you are already on a Gmail platform, this can be used to connect you to Google docs, Google+, and a host of other services. Others try and bundle access and services together—vertical monopoly such as telecommunications companies offering Internet services and then implementing various tiered pricing models for different kinds of services. This is, of course, what the net neutrality battle is all about.

It is not surprising that an unregulated Internet has generated extremely powerful monopolies in a very short span of time. Today, the top three Internet companies control more than 40 percent of the global digital advertising revenue.44 In the triple-digit mobile advertising revenue, the concentration is even sharper, with Google alone taking more than 50 percent of the revenue. Digital ad revenues overtook broadcast television’s in 2013, having earlier overtaken satellite/cable television, indicating that digital advertising is rapidly replacing other media forms.45 Again, a handful of companies controls the global e-commerce market. An unregulated market therefore leads to the formation of powerful monopolies, which in turn stifle competition and generate very high (or super) profits.

The issue is not the dichotomy between multilateralism and multistakeholderism as posed by proponents of a certain kind of multistakeholder model. The issue relates to the functions or issues that can legitimately be dealt with through each of the processes to serve the interests of society as a whole. For example, how do you deal with something like cyber-warfare and surveillance, which fall squarely within the province of the states? How do you protect the right of a country against unilateral disconnection? Similarly, how do you address regulatory issues such as determining costs of access, or regulating monopolies—both global telecom and Internet monopolies—so as to protect the consumers? In all of these issues, the role of the states and global corporations are different.

Under the neoliberal paradigm, the role of the state has changed “from being an entity apparently standing above society and intervening in its economic functioning in the interests of society as a whole, even at the expense of the unbridled interests of finance capital (such as for instance the State in the era of Keynesian demand management), to being an entity acting exclusively to promote the interests of finance capital.”46 Here, we would like to expand the neoliberal state working in the interests of finance capital to other forms of rentier capital, including intellectual property holders. So when a proposed model of Internet governance formally takes away the role of the state in regulating corporations, its relationship to the neoliberal paradigm is obvious.

It is now clear that dragnet global surveillance has been carried out by the United States and other Five Eyes governments in alliance with the most powerful global corporations. These are also the forces that have been the loudest voices in favor of a multistakeholder model that wants global corporations to have a veto over Internet governance. Internet governance is at present carried out by the U.S. government and global corporations through existing Internet organizations. After the Snowden revelations, the U.S. “stewardship” is no longer feasible. The U.S. response has been to offer to shift what it calls its “oversight” (in reality its control) to a multistakeholder process that meets with its approval. In March 2014, the United States stated that, “To support and enhance the multistakeholder model of Internet policymaking and governance, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) today announces its intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community.”

There are, however, serious doubts about whether such a transition would ever take place. The U.S. Congress has already raised the question of why the Internet, a U.S. property, should be transferred to any other body where other governments can grab it. A letter written by thirty-five members of Congress gave strong support for “the existing bottom-up, multistakeholder approach to Internet governance.”47 Interestingly, the U.S. Congress does not believe that such a discussion on IANA transition should be multistakeholder in the United States, but purely the prerogative of Congress, showing U.S. hypocrisy in discussions on the multistakeholder model.

The congruence of such a multistakeholder model in which governments are treated on par with global corporations and the neoliberal paradigm is obvious. Underlying this model is that there should be no global regulations or laws. That is why ICANN, a private non-profit corporation registered in California, today runs the DNS system through private contracts with domain registrars.

The neoliberal paradigm’s central premise is that the state (or states) should not interfere with markets. But this cannot work where there are “natural monopolies” such as telecom, electricity, and water distribution. In such cases, the state’s task could be to (1) be the supplier of such services, and (2) regulate such services either directly or indirectly by creating a regulatory market. A complete withdrawal of the state from providing services or regulating private service providers would lead to obvious adverse consequences.

It is telling that in the United States, where Internet access is not regulated, the broadband costs have been far higher, and quality well below, that in other advanced countries.48 Most consumers in the United States use either a cable operator or their telecom operator for provision of high-speed Internet. As a consequence of this duopoly, the U.S. internet speeds are of an order of magnitude lower than other countries. The telecommunications expert, Susan Crawford, in an interview with NPR, talked about her visits to Seoul and Stockholm. According to Crawford, “For about $25 a month they’re getting gigabits symmetrical service, which is 100 times faster than the very fastest connection available in the United States and for a 17th of the price.” For her, the answer is simple—the government must regulate the market: “That’s how we did it for the telephone, that’s how we did it for the federal highway system, and we seem to have forgotten that when it comes to these utility basic services.”

Incidentally, the costs of broadband in most parts of the global South are even higher than those in the United States. This is partly due to the high cost of interconnection, which helps the big players and penalizes the small ones. The big players interconnect among each other at no cost, while the smaller players have to pay the full cost of the interconnections. This, of course, is market economics; the markets help the big at the expense of the small. In the more civilized (and now gone) days of telephony, the development of the International Telecommunication Union meant a conscious decision to subsidize the small players at the expense of the big ones. The rationale was that an expansion of the network was in the larger social interest.

NETmundial: The Context

The Snowden revelations have highlighted the importance of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Tunis Agenda regarding Internet governance.49 At WSIS a number of countries challenged the U.S. control over the DNS system.50 How can vital infrastructure, needed by every country for communications and commerce, operate under the jurisdiction of one particular government? WSIS raised this issue and underlined the need to enhance the role of other governments in Internet governance. Articles 68 and 69 of the Tunis Agenda addressed the need for such Enhanced Cooperation.

The WSIS identified the need for a more participatory structure for other governments. But the Internet Governance Forum set up after Tunis was a body that could only discuss issues; it could take no binding measures. The Enhanced Cooperation agenda—essentially a code for addressing U.S. control over the Internet—got nowhere with endless discussions; the United States and its allies, including the Internet organizations, stonewalled the issue.

Brazil initiated a process within the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) dialogue forum for a different form of Internet governance. It developed into a Declaration in Tshwane, South Africa, in October 2011, for a multilateral, democratic, and transparent Internet. It focused on the “urgent need to operationalise the process of ‘Enhanced Cooperation’ mandated by the Tunis Agenda” of WSIS, and to set up a multilateral body under the United Nations for Internet governance.51 At the sixty-sixth meeting of the UN General Assembly on October 26, 2011, India proposed the setting up of a new UN-based body to act as a nodal governance agency of the Internet.52 However, none of these efforts was pursued seriously by either the IBSA or the three countries individually.

Internet governance also came up at the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai, with particular reference to revising the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). Without getting into details, there was an attempt to paint the International Telecommunication Union as the villain trying to gain control over the Internet. Such a narrative was fashioned by the United States and a set of U.S. corporations, though a section of “civil society” also lent their voice to the chorus. The consequence was that though eighty-nine countries signed the new ITRs, the United States and the European Union refused to sign, citing grounds that were highly controversial.53

Things changed radically after the NSA revelations. In her speech in the UN General Assembly, Rousseff raised the issue of surveillance and called for a global meeting on multilateral Internet governance.54 The NETmundial, organized in April 23–24 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was a consequence of this call. A number of the organizations connected to Internet governance—including ICANN, IETF, IAB, the W3C, ISOC, and the five regional Internet address registries (the “I* organizations”)—met in Uruguay on October 7, 2013, and issued a statement distancing themselves from the U.S. government and its actions.55 They called for an “environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.” Fadi Chehade, the CEO of ICANN, then met with Rousseff and supported her call for a global conference. ICANN and the other Internet organizations soon became partners to—the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee, the organization selected by the Brazilian authorities to run the conference and help set up 1Net, the counterpart of in NETmundial.56 Thus the United States gave itself a guarantee against an unacceptable outcome.

From the beginning, there were two currents to NETmundial. On the one hand were the issues identified by Rousseff regarding surveillance, the violation of sovereignty of countries, and the call for an increased multilateral oversight of the Internet. On the other hand, there was the call of Internet organizations such as ICANN for a multistakeholder model, in which governments would participate, but along with other stakeholders—essentially the equal footing, multistakeholder model. If ICANN and other Internet organizations had not played the role they did, the Brazilian conference would, conceivably, have been more focused on the mass surveillance issues and the Enhanced Cooperation issue flowing out of the Tunis Agenda.

To return to the specific fallout of the Snowden revelations that we have already discussed: the U.S. “stewardship” and its direct control of the DNS is no longer feasible, given the huge trust deficit it faces. The U.S. response has been an offer to shift what it calls its “oversight” (in reality its control)—the IANA transition—to a multistakeholder process that meets with its approval.

The March 2014 NTIA announcement by the U.S. Department of Commerce is an attempt to steer the discussion into a narrow framework. By defining the limits of any transition under which the United States would be willing to give up its control, the United States ensures that it will not really have to do so. The condition set is a “multistakeholder model” in which governments either play no role, or, at best, they play a role equal to that of other stakeholders including business. The United States can then retain de facto control over the Internet, via its juridical control over the Internet organizations and the U.S. corporations, while giving up its de jure control of direct oversight.

The ICANN has already released a draft of the scope of the transition.57 In effect, this means that all IANA functions will be transferred to ICANN, and anything outside such a transfer is out of scope.58 The ICANN community broadly supports the private sector-led, multistakeholder model of Internet governance, in line with the U.S. precondition for giving up the IANA function.59

The multistakeholder model proposed by ICANN and the United States—as we have discussed earlier—considers that the Internet should be private and not regulated (except by U.S. laws and regulations). Those opposing this model and proposing an alternate model based on different roles and responsibilities for the stakeholders propose a greater role for the state in regulating the Internet and protecting the rights of citizens. Those who are against this model then use the rhetoric that any such role for the states in effect supports the takeover of the Internet by authoritarian states such as China, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

Underpinning the two models of Internet governance is the question of what the Internet represents for the United States and its allies, on the one hand; and other countries, particularly the BRICS countries, on the other hand. The European Union has not been happy with the sole control of the United States over the Internet, but has not done too much to rock the U.S.-controlled boat. (This is largely because a few countries, led by Sweden and the United Kingdom, strongly support the U.S. position within the EU discussions.) For the United States, the Internet is an instrument to pry open other countries—both economically and politically. It sees the economic monopoly of the global Internet companies as a means of expanding its control; and also, as we now know, as partners for its surveillance. If it wants regime change in a country, a “free and open” Internet is very much in its interest. Freedom of speech, in line with what the United States considers free speech, is again in its political interest.60 If these two goals demand an unfettered Internet, its need for intellectual property or copyright protection needs a much more closed Internet. This is why global Internet companies and content companies have clashed on issues such as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) and the dichotomy in the U.S. position has sharpened—a free and open Internet must be closed to even fair use provisions in copyright law.61

The BRICS countries, like many other global South countries, would like to protect their economic space. For countries such as China and Cuba, and also Iran, there is the additional threat of regime change. The Great Firewall of China has economic value in addition to serving its political need to block sites it considers dangerous. China is the only country that has built the equivalent of Google, Twitter, and Ebay. The Chinese microblogging sites, its search engine and the Internet e-commerce sites are not only dominant in China; they are also worth billions of dollars in the global stock market. For all practical purposes, China has built its own Internet that connects to the global Internet, but remains under its control. Other BRICS countries have not been able to match the Chinese achievement (or have not tried it as yet).

The Chinese therefore have the advantage that their Internet functions almost autonomously of the global Internet. They have an interest in global Internet governance, but are not much affected by it either way. Other countries such as Brazil, India, and even Russia are far more interconnected to the global Internet than China and so need to address the global Internet governance issue more vigorously. This difference was visible before and during the NETmundial, where China was for all practical purposes an observer while India and Brazil were important actors, though Russia less so.

The split between the states is understandable; there are some countries that benefit from the existing status quo while others lose. The flow of information over the Internet is completely asymmetric with the global South receiving and paying not once, but twice for the data packets they receive; once to download the information they need, the second time to “pay” for the advertisements they receive.

The split in “civil society” is less clear and depends on what the civil society groups think is important. For a number of civil society groups, freedom of speech and privacy are the major concerns. A number of them instinctively believe that the governments of the United States and other Western countries are preferable to the governments of countries in the global South, who are much more likely to interfere with the “free and open” Internet.62 For them, the technical community is the final protector of freedom by hardwiring it in the structure of the Internet.63 However, today’s Internet self-evidently does not preserve privacy, so this community cannot also “hardwire freedom” into the Internet. The issue here is that a set of actors in the civil society space, though shaken by the Snowden revelations, still believe that in matters of free speech and free Internet, the main threat is from nation states, particularly in the global South. Most of these civil society actors find countries such as Russia, China, Iran, and sometimes India (depending on India’s position) beyond the pale, and the Western countries and their corporations—in spite of dragnet surveillance—less of a threat.

Others in civil society have argued that digital colonialism and global corporations backed by the United States and other developed countries constitute the major threat today.64 For these civil society groups, free speech is the narrative used to open the global South to penetration by the North, both politically and economically.65 Such groups are not unaware of the mass surveillance or attacks on free speech in the global South. But they do not believe that the solution lies in aligning with the global North in supporting a neoliberal model of Internet governance and helping digital colonialism.

For both sets of civil society actors, the battles that need to be fought are identical; it is the priorities that decide the alignment. Much of the support for the multistakeholder model within civil society stems from alignment—if necessary with global corporations and Western powers, particularly if this also gives civil society actors a seat at the table of Internet governance. In aligning with the Western powers for a “free and open internet,” they eerily echo the white protagonist Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s famous novel set in Africa, The Heart of Darkness: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea onlyand an unselfish belief in the idea.”66 The “idea” then was civilization; the idea today is “a free and open Internet.” We would like to grant them their unselfish belief “in the idea,” even though the consequences for us—those with a different complexion or flatter noses—may be equally ugly. If in doubt, all we need to do is ask the Iraqis or the Libyans.

The Brazilian civil society has been fighting for Marco Civil—an Internet Bill of Rights—for the last three years. It has built its multistakeholder model around this struggle. However, the Brazilian groups have failed to see the analogy between a multistakeholder model within a nation state where national laws hold good, and a global multistakeholder model in which the equivalent of national laws are treaties. Transferring the Brazilian model to an international level without calling for treaties misses this important point, and results in calls for a multistakeholder model with no international norms to constrain corporate power.

The NETmundial was held within this context. For those who support a neoliberal multistakeholder model—ICANN and other I* organizations—NETmundial was a platform to bury the multilateral, Tunis Agenda of WSIS and replace it with a new, multistakeholder model. This would also help in the IANA transition—as ICANN would then be accountable only to itself in the name of its stakeholders, and so be able to meet the U.S. preconditions for relinquishing its role.

NETmundial: The World Cup of Internet Governance

The NETmundial had a structure of a High Level Committee of twenty-seven members, consisting of representatives of twelve governments and another twelve chosen from business, civil society, academia and the technical community, and three from the international organizations. An executive board of four members consisting of a representative from each of the stakeholders was selected to be co-chairs and run the conference. In keeping with most such multistakeholder processes, neither the criteria nor the process of such selection was ever furnished. 1Net, the body that ICANN had set up, called the shots and decided who the representatives of each of the stakeholders—the twelve members of the High Level Committee—should be. The civil society co-chair of the conference proved to be highly controversial and drew protests from a section of the civil society.67

The NETmundial was conducted through an open process in which proposals on Internet principles and the Roadmap for the future were sought. Over 180 proposals were received, from which an initial draft was prepared and submitted (by the Executive Stakeholder Committee) to the High Level Committee.68 Wikileaks leaked this draft and it appeared to be a reasonable compilation of the inputs. However, the High Level Committee effectively gutted the draft on three important counts. All references to surveillance and cyber-weapons were taken out; net neutrality was jettisoned despite the fact that surveillance was one of the topics mentioned most frequently in the inputs.69 The final draft presented to the conference by the High Level Committee also had a number of references to an equal footing, consensus-based, multistakeholder process. Rousseff’s NETmundial speech made it clear that the Brazilian government’s position, as expressed in the UN General Assembly, had not changed.70 She reiterated the need for a world free of mass surveillance and cyber-weapons and the importance of net neutrality. She also referred to the multilateral-multistakeholder process of Internet governance, setting the stage for a two-day contestation between the two sets of forces—the neoliberal multistakeholder model versus those arguing for the continuation of the Tunis Agenda—a multistakeholder model in which the stakeholders have their respective roles and responsibilities.

The NETmundial multistakeholder process showed that an open process allows a wide-ranging discussion—but it also showed its weakness. Though the number of interventions, including those from remote hubs, was large, the final non-binding outcome document was again prepared without a clear sense of who was driving which agenda. Business was allowed to smuggle in an Intellectual Property Right qualification to the right to share, create a proviso for private policing by ISP’s on behalf of content owners, and bury net neutrality in the section on future action.71 Surveillance came in, but in a watered down form—with no condemnation of mass surveillance, and in a language which the United States and United Kingdom would hold compatible with their practices.

On the key issue of the multistakeholder model, different people will read different meanings into the outcome text. Though some have argued that the WSIS Tunis Agenda was replaced by the NETmundial outcome, this did not happen.72 On the contrary, the Tunis Agenda and its key points are reaffirmed in the document. The roles and responsibilities of the respective stakeholders have been qualified by adding the word “evolving,” while the need for a consensual process has been qualified by “as far as possible.” Democracy has now been added to the multistakeholder process without defining what a “democratic multistakeholder process” actually means.

Russia and Cuba did not agree to the outcome document and disassociated themselves from it. India stated that it could not agree to the outcome without further consultations with their government. Business expressed its happiness while civil society groups were less than happy with the outcome.

The disquieting part of the NETmundial process was the obvious disarray within possible allies. Forget the traditional G77, the BRICS or even the smaller subset of IBSA were disunited. If Brazil signed the Final Acts of World Conference on International Telecommunications in 2012 while India stayed out, at NETmundial the roles were reversed; Brazil seemed willing, at least initially, to go along with the United States on an equal footing, neoliberal, version of the multistakeholder model, while India showed clearly its unhappiness with such a model. It was clear that the United States and its allies—the key Internet organizations—have worked out a game plan along with business. Sections of civil society have either been ideologically co-opted into this neoliberal multistakeholder formulation of Internet governance, or captured by active corporate interests.73

The saving grace in NETmundial is that the forces for the status quo could not get their way either, and achieve an unequivocal endorsement of the neoliberal multistakeholder model. Instead, we now have openings on both sides—for going further down this route or developing a truly democratic multistakeholder model with clearly defined roles for each of the stakeholders. The question before us is how we take back the Internet from the alliance of global corporate interests and the United States.

The battle for democratic Internet governance, where peoples’ interests prevail, calls for a much wider battle. It means a battle against the surveillance state. It is a struggle against digital colonialism and the rentier economy of the Internet. It is a struggle for enlarging the global knowledge commons which is made possible by the Internet. It is a battle for freeing our computer hardware and software from proprietary systems and moving on to free and open source platforms. It is also a part of the larger struggle of the global South against imperialism. Unless we can bring all these strands together, it would be difficult to beat back this offensive of global capital. The Internet today is broken: people are under surveillance, and our data is being monetized and sold. If we want to change this, we need a different form of Internet governance. Cosmetic changes to existing institutions will not do. Deep-rooted changes are required, the kind of changes that will expand democracy and social and economic justice, preserve the rights of people as well as the sovereign rights of countries, and ensure that the Internet is used for peace—not war.


  1. Though the combined revenue of cable/satellite and broadcasting revenue is almost twice that of digital revenues in the United States, the digital ad revenues have overtaken individually the two segments of TV revenues.
  2. See for example Richard Hill, “The Internet, Its Governance, and the Multi-Stakeholder Model,” Info 16 no. 2, (2014): 16–46.
  3. John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, “The Internet’s Unholy Marriage to Capitalism,” Monthly Review 62, no. 10 (March 2011): 1–30.
  4. NETmundial,
  5. Prabir Purkayastha and Rishab Bailey, “Evolving a New Internet Governance Paradigm,” Economic and Political Weekly XLIX, no. 2, January 11, 2014,
  6. See Shawn Powers and Michael Jablonski, The Real Cyber War: The Political Economy of Internet Freedom (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, forthcoming) and Dan Schiller, Digital Depression: Information Technology and Economic Crisis (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, forthcoming).
  7. See, for example, “Documentos da NSA apontam Dilma Rousseff como alvo de espionage,” Globo, September 9, 2013,; Jens Glüsing, Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, and Holger Stark, “Fresh Leak on US Spying: NSA Accessed Mexican President’s Email,” Spiegel, October 20, 2013,; James Ball, “NSA Monitored Calls of 35 World Leaders After US Official Handed Over Contacts,” Guardian, October 24, 2013,; Spiegel Staff, “Embassy Espionage: The NSA’s Secret Spy Hub in Berlin,” Spiegel; October 27, 2013,; Ewen MacAskill, et. al., “GCHQ Intercepted Foreign Politicians’ Communications at G20 Summits,” Guardian, June 16, 2013, Public institutions and international negotiations include the G20 summit of 2008 and the climate change talks at Bali and Copenhagen in 2007 and 2009 respectively.
  8. NSA Documents Show United States Spied Brazilian Oil Giant,” Globo, September 8, 2013,; “NSA Accused of Spying on Brazilian Oil Company Petrobras,” Guardian, September 9, 2013,; “‘Follow the Money’: NSA Spies on International Payments,” Spiegel, September 15, 2013,
  9. GCHQ and NSA Targeted Charities, Germans, Israeli PM and EU Chief,” Guardian, December 20, 2013,; “East Timor-Australia Spying Scandal,” December 16, 2013, Diplomat,; James Risen and Laura Poitras, “Spying by N.S.A. Ally Entangled U.S. Law Firm,” New York Times, February 15, 2014,; Oliver Laughland and Bridie Jabour, “Indonesia: Australia and US Need to Clean Up Their Mess,” Guardian, February 16, 2014,; Bridie Jabour and Martin Pengelly, “Australia Spied On Indonesia Talks With US Law Firm In 2013,” Guardian, February 15, 2014, http://
  10. Ellen Nakashima, “Senators Say NSA Phone Records Played Little Role In Stopping Terror Plots,” Washington Post, June 19, 2013,
  11. European Parliament, “REPORT On the Existence Of A Global System For the Interception of Private and Commercial Communications (ECHELON Interception System) (2001/2098[INI]),” (section 13, “Conclusions and Recommendations), July 11, 2001,
  12. Timothy B. Lee, “Here’s Everything We Know About PRISM To Date,” Washington Post, June 12, 2013,; “File:PRISM Collection Details.jpg,” accessed May 30, 2014,; “File: PRISM slide 5.jpg,” accessed May 30, 2014,
  13. Prism slides available at PRISM_(surveillance_program),” accessed May 30, 2014,; map of global submarine cables system, see Telegeography, “Submarine Cable Map,” http://
  14. For details of these agreements as are available, see Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, “U.S. Government Foreign Telecommunications Providers Network Security Agreements,” July 9, 2013,
  15. Electronic Frontier Foundation, “AT&T’s Role in Dragnet Surveillance of Millions of Its Customers,”
  16. File: PRISM slide 5.jpg,” accessed May 30, 2014,; TeleGeography, “Global Voice Traffic Map 2010,”
  17. Staff, “Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit,” Spiegel, December 29, 2013,
  18. John Casaretto, “NSA-CNE-Map,” November 28, 2013,
  19. We’re Glenn Greenwald and Janine Gibson of the Guardian UK, and we’ve been breaking stories on the NSA Files since June. AUA!,” Reddit, October 1, 2013,; “Obama Tells Intelligence Chiefs to Draw Up Cyber Target List—Full Document Text,” Guardian, June 7, 2013,
  20. Bruce Schneier is one of the top security experts in the world, who considers the Presidential Directive to be highly dangerous. See his “US Offensive Cyberwar Policy,” Schneier on Security, June 21, 2013,
  21. Barton Gellman and Ellen Nakashima, “U.S. Spy Agencies Mounted 231 Offensive Cyber-Operations In 2011, Documents Show,” Washington Post, August 30, 2013,
  22. For a broader discussion, see Richard Hill, “Internet Governance: The Last Gasp of Colonialism, or Imperialism by Other Means?,” in Roxana Radu, Jean-Marie Chenou, and Rolf H. Weber, eds., The Evolution of Global Internet Policy: New Principles and Forms of Governance In the Making? (Berlin: Schulthess/Springer, 2013) and Richard Hill, “The Future of Internet Governance: Dystopia, Utopia, or Realpolitik?,” in Lorenzo Pupillo, ed., The Global Internet Governance In Transition (Berlin: Springer, forthcoming).
  23. This could be seen as being similar to the United States claiming ownership and control of Mars as being the only or first country to have visited the planet.
  24. IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is responsible in particular for the administrative processing of changes to the root zone for the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS).
  25. See the MoU signed between ICANN and the U.S. Department of Commerce dated November 25, 1998 and extensions thereto.
  26. Graham J.H. Smith, ed., Internet Law and Regulation, 4th edition (London: Thomas Sweet and Maxwell, 2007), 149.
  27. The latest IANA functions contract effective October 2012 ( states in Clause C.2.9.2 that: “the process flow for root zone management involves three roles that are performed by three different entities through two separate legal agreements: ICANN as the IANA Functions Operator, NTIA as the Administrator, and VeriSign (or any successor entity as designated by the U.S. Department of Commerce) as articulated in Cooperative Agreement Amendment 11, as the Root Zone Maintainer. Further, Clause C.2.9.2.a (At least notionally) permits ICANN to make changes (including additions) to the Root Zone File for TLDs.
  28. For instance, in the case of Wikileaks numerous registries the world over were pressured to shut down the Wikileaks domain, see David Walsh, “US Government Preparing New Attacks Against WikiLeaks,” World Socialist Web Site, August 26, 2011,; Josh Halliday, “WikiLeaks Site’s Swiss Registry Dismisses Pressure To Take It Offline,” Guardian, December 4, 2010,; Charles Arthur, “WikiLeaks Under Attack: The Definitive Timeline,” Guardian, January 8, 2010, The Iraqi domain name .iq disappeared from the Internet prior to the launch of the Second Gulf War in 2003; see Dan Biddle, “Can We Find the All-Powerful 14th Server?,” BBC, August 14, 2009, The United States can enforce its courts’ decisions over Internet websites by threatening deletion of the domain name as seen in the recent case where DVDFab, a Chinese company, was essentially chased off the Internet for not following U.S. domestic law. See Mike Masnick, “Ridiculously Broad Ruling Against DVD Ripper Software Has Court Allow Seizure Of Domains, Social Media & More,” March 11 ,2014, The United States can enforce its own decision regarding assignment of domain names—for instance the controversy over the Amazon domain name. See Lee Moran, “South America, Amazon Square Off in Fight Over Control of Amazon Domain Name,” New York Daily News, December 4, 2012,; Greg Bensinger, “Ruling: Amazon Can’t Own ‘.Amazon’,” Wall Street Journal blogs, July 17, 2013,
  29. The board possesses final decision making powers.
  30. For instance, the applicability of restrictive copyright law that ensures that critical websites (for instance ones that tag the word “sucks” onto various brand names) are removed.
  31. This has resulted in websites that are critical of corporations etc., even if actually containing genuine content being barred if they utilize similar sounding names in their address (e.g., will not be allowed to exist under this policy even if it contains genuine criticism of Nike). Milton Mueller, cf. Dawn C. Nunziato, “Freedom of Expression, Democratic Norms, and Internet Governance,” 52 Emory L.J. 187 (2003),
  32. Ibid.
  33. The IAB board of directors lacks any global South membership and is dominated by people with industry affiliations. For instance, RFC 4440 states “Much of the early participation in the IETF as well as in the IRTF was from the academic and research communities. We don’t have citation from this, but a look at the members of the IAB from the 1980s and early ‘90s shows IAB members from institutions such as MIT, UCLA, BBN, UCL, SDSC, and the like, while IAB members from the last few years were more likely to list their organizations as Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm, Verisign etc. See “IAB Thoughts on the Role of the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF),” March 2006,
  34. For instance, regarding ICANN, 81 percent of applications for membership in 2000 were from the European Union or United States, as compared to 19 percent from Latin America, Africa, and Asia/Pacific put together. Andrew McLaughlin, “Democratic Internet,” slide presentation, June 15, 2000, The IAB’s present membership (in which almost all the concerned people have corporate affiliations) includes no representation from the global south, and only one woman; see IAB, “Members,” accessed May 30, 2014, Further, various insiders have commented on the lack of gender and racial parity and increasing corporate control of the W3C. See “An Angry Fix,” July 17, 2006,; Molly E. Holzschlag, “Misplaced Anger: A Rebuttal to Zeldman’s Criticism of the W3C,” July 26, 2006,
  35. “Rules for decision-making are frequently amended, often disregarded, and not reliably enforced…. If cyberspace is the ‘electronic frontier,’ ICANN has created a ‘wild west’ culture of politicized decision making.” Hans Klein, “ICANN Reform: Establishing the Rule of Law,” policy analysis for The World Summit on the Information Society, November 16­–18, 2005,, 1.
  36. Karl Auerbach, sample letter to U.S. congressional representatives, April 21, 2014,
  37. The actual wording in the U.S. Department of Commerce 1997 White Paper and the 1998 Green Paper was “privatize the domain name system (DNS).” Interestingly, it was issued as a part of the Clinton administration Framework for Global Electronic Commerce. See U.S. Department of Commerce, “Management of Internet Names and Addresses, Docket Number: 980212036-8146-02,” July 22, 2000,
  38. “However, it is worth mentioning that in the discussions on Internet governance during the first phase of WSIS, the term usually used to describe the existing arrangements was ‘private sector-leadership,’ in line with the language used in the setting up of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).” Markus Kummer, “Multistakeholder Cooperation: Reflections on the Emergence of a New Phraseology in International Cooperation,” May 14 , 2013,
  39. L. Gordon Crovitz, “Keep the Internet Free—for Now,” Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2014,
  40. “In May 2012, the U.S. Congress resolved that U.S. authorities ‘should continue working to implement the position of the United States on Internet governance that clearly articulates the consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control and preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet today.’ Presumably this resolution refers only to keeping the Internet free from the control of governments other than that of the United States, because the United States continued to maintain its control over the Internet Assigned Names and Addresses (IANA) function.” Richard Hill, “The Internet’s Multi-stakeholder Model,” World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum, May 14­–16, 2013 (dated April 26, 2013),, 4n12.
  41. Slavka Antonova, “Power and Multistakeholderism: The ICANN Experiment,” 2007,; Michael Gurstein, “The Multistakeholder Model, Neo-liberalism and Global (Internet) Governance,” March 26, 2014,
  42. Net Neutrality,”
  43. Tim Wu, “In the Grip of the Internet Monopolists,” Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2010,
  44. Google Takes Home Half of Worldwide Mobile Internet Ad Revenues,” July 13, 2013,
  45. IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report: 2013 Full Year Results, April 2014,
  46. Prabhat Patnaik, “The State Under Neo-liberalism,” MRZine, October 8, 2010,
  47. Cited in Camille Stewart, “35 Senators Ask Tough Questions Re: Internet Transition,” April 2, 2014,
  48. Susan Crawford, Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013).
  49. Tunis Agenda for the Information Society,” World Summit on the Information Society, Geneva 2003–Tunis 2005 (dated November 18, 2005),
  50. Milton Mueller, Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010); Richard Hill, “WSIS+10: The Search for Consensus,” Latin America in Movement no. 494, April 2014,, 31–33.
  51. Tshwane Declaration–India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Dialogue Fórum,” October 18, 2011,
  52. India’s Proposal for a United Nations Committee for Internet-Related Policies (CIRP),” 2011,
  53. Prabir Purkayastha, “WCIT—Why the US and Its Allies Walked Out,” December 27, 2012,; Richard Hill, The New International Telecommunication Regulations and the Internet: A Commentary and Legislative History (Berlin: Schulthess/Springer, 2013); Richard Hill, “WCIT: Failure or Success, Impasse or Way Forward?,” International Journal of Law and Information Technology 21 no. 3 (2013): 313.
  54. Dilma Rousseff, statement to the UN General Assembly, 68th session, September 24, 2013,
  55. Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation,” October 7, 2013,
  56. Paul Wilson, Director General of APNIC (APNIC is a regnal registrar and a part of the Montevideo statement), said “During this time, ICANN proposed the name of ‘1net’ as a banner of sorts, under which this movement could be formed.” See Wilson, “What Is ‘1net’ to Me,” November 29, 2013,
  57. Scoping Document,”
  58. Milton Mueller, “ICANN: Anything That Doesn’t Give IANA To Me Is Out of Scope,” April 16, 2014,
  59. Steve DelBianco, ICANN’s policy chair for the Business Constituency, said “Ultimately, I think that most of us in the ICANN community want the same thing: an accountable, stable organization that maintains its commitment to private-sector-led, multistakeholder management of the DNS.” DelBianco, “The Path Forward: Accountability Through the IANA Transition,” March 23, 2014,
  60. In most countries hate speech is illegal, although not in the United States.
  61. SOPA/PIPA: Internet Blacklist Legislation,”
  62. Jody Liddicoat and Avri Doria, “Human Rights and Internet Protocols: Comparing Processes and Principles,” December 12, 2012,
  63. Richard Hill, “The Internet as a Paradigm,” April, 2013,
  64. Just Net Coalition, “The Delhi Declaration,”
  65. This is not dissimilar to the original colonial narrative of bringing civilization to the natives.
  66. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness,
  67. Full disclosure: both the authors were signatories to the letter signed by Indian civil society groups protesting the selection of the civil society co-chair.
  68. NETmundial: The Beginning of A Process,”
  69. Richard Hill, “Quantitative Analysis of Contributions to NETMundial Meeting,” March 20, 2014,
  70. NETmundial – Dilma Rousseff’s Opening Speech,” April 23, 2014,
  71. Julia Powles, “Big Business Was the Winner at NETmundial,” April 28, 2014,
  72. Milton Muller, “NETmundial Moves Net Governance Beyond WSIS,” April 27, 2014,
  73. Google, Global Network Initiative, the State Department, all have been active in the civil society space. While a lot of the civil society activists are well meaning and are convinced of what they say, the corporate sector obviously wants to promote those sections that articulate positions that are similar to theirs. The multistakeholder model of all stakeholders on equal footing and decision making through consensus is one such position.
2014, Volume 66, Issue 03 (July-August)
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