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Defending the threat to the public-ness and the egalitarian nature of the Internet

From: "Guru"
Date: Sat, November 29, 2008 20:08

Dear friends,

Many of us tend to take the commons and the public nature of the
Internet, critical pre-requisites for an open net, for granted. However,
increasing corporatisation and control of the Internet are strongly
threatening these fundamental characteristics of the Internet as we know
it. In this context, six civil society organisations in India have
proposed an open letter to the UN Internet Governance Forum which meets
for its third annual meeting between 3^rd and 6th December in Hyderabad.
The letter exhorts urgent global action to ensure that the public-ness
and the egalitarian nature of the Internet are preserved as its
essential features. The possibilities of democracy, equity and social
justice in our societies will be significantly impacted by the extent to
which we can achieve this objective.

The proposed letter is enclosed. If you and/or your organization wish to
endorse this letter, please indicate so in response to this email by the
midnight of 1st December. This issue is of high relevance to the
research we do as a part of the Open Net Initiative (many of the points
in the letter have been subject of discussions on the ONI list) and I am
sure this letter will merit your serious consideration.

A printable version of the proposed open letter can also be accessed at
along with the the list of the current signatories.

Thank you for your support.

Gurumurthy K.

*An Open Letter to the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF)*

*for its 3rd Annual Meeting at Hyderabad, India, from 3rd to 6th
December, 2008*

* *

*The IGF must ACT NOW against the threat to the*

*public-ness and the egalitarian nature of the Internet*

The undersigned wish to express their deep concern that the UN Internet
Governance Forum (IGF), created by the World Summit on the Information
Society in 2005 as an Internet 'policy dialogue' forum, is largely
failing to address key public interest and policy issues in global
Internet governance -- including that of democratic deficit.

_Who shapes the Internet, as the Internet shapes our new social context?_

The Internet represents the single most important technical advance of
our society in a long time, so much so that it defines a new emerging
social paradigm. The basic characteristics of the Internet determine the
contours of the emerging social order in many important ways. The
Internet was conceived as, and still largely is, an extensive
communication system which is democratizing, and has little respect for
established social hierarchies. Interactions and associations built over
this new 'techno-social' system have, therefore, held the promise of a
more egalitarian society.

The era of innocence of the Internet however appears to be fast
approaching its end. Today, the Internet of the future -- the very near
future -- is being shaped insidiously by dominant forces to further
their interests. (See the fact-sheet on the following page for some
illustrations of this.) Unfortunately, global policy forums have largely
failed to articulate, much less act on, crucial Internet policy issues,
which concern the democratic possibilities for our societies.

_The IGF needs to act now!_

As the Internet Governance Forum convenes for its third annual meeting,
between 3^rd and 6th December, 2008, in Hyderabad, India, it must take
immediate steps to anchor and discuss important global public interest
and policy issues involved in Internet governance. If it does not act
now, it may get seen as a space that only provides an illusion of a
public policy dialogue, and, consequently, as being co-opted in
furthering the agenda of dominant forces that are shaping the Internet
as per their narrow interests. *We therefore strongly urge the IGF to
directly address the following key global public interest and policy

*1. Increasing corporatisation of the Internet*

*2. Increasing proprietisation of standards and code that go into
building the Internet*

*3. Increasing points of control being embedded into the Internet in the
name of security and intellectual property violations*

*4. Huge democratic deficit in global Internet governance*

We exhort the IGF to adopt clear directions for engaging with these
crucial public policy issues. The IGF should come out with a clear work
plan at its forthcoming meeting in Hyderabad to address the four key
areas listed above.

The global community -- comprising not only people who currently have
access to the Internet, but also the un-connected billions who are being
impacted by it nevertheless -- will judge the meaningfulness and
legitimacy of the IGF in terms of what progress it is able to make on
these issues.

*Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore*

*Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore*

*Delhi** Science Forum, New Delhi*

*Free Software Foundation - India*

*IT for Change, Bangalore*

*Knowledge** Commons, New Delhi*

For endorsements and/or more information, please contact Anja Kovacs

email: anja (at) itforchange.net, tel: +91 80 266554134, mobile: +91

* *

*Information Sheet*

* *

*How the Public-ness and Egalitarian Nature of the Internet is Threatened*

*Some Examples*

_Corporatisation of the Internet_

Largely unsuspected by most of its users, the Internet is rapidly
changing from being a vast 'public sphere', with a fully public
ownership and a non-proprietary nature, to a set of corporatised
privately-owned networks.

On the one hand, telecom companies are carving out the Internet into
privately-owned networks -- controlling the nature of transactions over
these networks. They seek to differentially charge content providers,
while also building wholly private networks offering exclusive content
relay services. Developments like video/TV over Internet Protocol and
the provision of controlled and selective Internet services over mobiles
are contributing to increasing network-operators' control over the
Internet, with a corresponding erosion of its public-ness.

On the other hand, the commons of the Internet is also being overwhelmed
and squeezed out by a complete domination of a few privately owned
mega-applications such as Google, Facebook, Youtube etc.

_Proprietarisation of standards and code that build the Internet_

One of the main ways of appropriating the commons of the Internet is
through the increasing use of proprietary and closed standards and code
in building the Internet system. Such appropriation allows the extortion
of illegitimate rent out of the many new forms of commons-based
activities that are being made possible through the Internet.

*_Embedding control points in the Internet_*

*A growing confluence of corporatist and statist interests has led to
the embedding of more and more means of control into the Internet in a
manner that greatly compromises citizens' rights and freedoms. Whether
it is the pressure on Internet Service Providers to examine Internet
traffic for 'intellectual property' violations; or imposition of
cultural and political controls on the Internet by states within their
boundaries; or ITU's work on IP trace-back mechanisms; or the tightening
of US control over the global Internet infrastructure in the name of
securing the root zone file and the domain name system, these new forms
of controlling the Internet are being negotiated among dominant
interests away from public scrutiny and wider public interest-based

* *

_Democratic deficit in global Internet governance_

The current global Internet governance regime -- a new-age privatized
governance system professing allegiance mostly to a single country, the
US -- has proven to be an active instrument of perpetuation of dominant
commercial and geo-political interests. Lately, OECD countries have
begun some work on developing public policy principles that, due to the
inherently global nature of the Internet, can be expected to become
globally applicable. It is quite unacceptable that OECD countries shirk
from discussing the same public policy issues at global public policy
forums like the IGF that they discuss among themselves at OECD meetings.
Apparently, developing countries are expected to focus on finding ways
to reach connectivity to their people, and not burden themselves with
higher-level Internet governance issues!

People's and communities' right to self-determination and participation
in governance of issues that impact their lives should underpin global
Internet governance.

Gurumurthy Kasinathan
IT for Change
Bridging Development Realities and Technological Possibilities
Tel:98454 37730
*IT for Change is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with United
Nations' Economic and Social Council*

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