How Could The Internet Be Governed – A Bulgarian Perspective

In the last few years there have been many discussions how the Internet is governed, and how it should be governed. The whole World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) ended talking about this problem. It caused exchange of letters between the US Secretary of State and the European Union presidency.

And it caused a public discussion, organized by the US Department of Commerce on that issue. I saw some reflection of this discussion and here’s some comments on that.

My colleague Milton Mueller of the Syracuse University sent me an e-mail today in which, among other, it says, “A global email campaign by IGP generated comments from 32 countries in seven regions, including Asia, Africa, North & South America, the Caribbean and the Middle East against continued unilateral U.S. control of the DNS root. While IGP’s official filing offered a detailed rationale for that position, the IGP website provided a simple means for individual Internet users to transmit that message to the USG. And according The Register (UK), half of the comments critical of the USG, including several from ccTLD operators and others in the technical community, incorporated the IGP language. In the final analysis, 87% of relevant comments received called for transition toward a new model of governance. However, while public response this lopsided would make any reasonable public-steward think twice, the DOC recently renewed its continued authority over the IANA function via ICANN, the key point of leverage for DNS root control.”

I have serious problem accepting such statement. My problem is based on several simple facts:

A) The Internet is working. One billion people are online regularly.
B) The Internet is regulated in a number of countries – by laws, regulations, ordinances, or just common sense.
C) There are many companies that make a lot of money on the Internet.
D) The users save time, efforts, and money by getting services on line.

When people offer different governance model, they keep on forgetting that any such move could ruin the delicate balance that exists today. How shall a new model change that balance is not easy to predict. I am not going to repeat all the different proposed models – but they all come to one point: there should not be unilateral control over ICANN. I think that’s a good idea, and it needs a serious consideration. It requires governments, civil society, businesses to sit down and talk about the way the governance of the Internet may be changed. The definition says, “Internet governance is 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“.

My understanding of these issues is based on what we have done in Bulgaria in the last 7 years. Since 1999, Bulgaria has shown a great respect for self-governance of the Internet. After initial attempts of certain ministers to control the Internet, three governments in a row have been quite user-friendly. It’s easy to say there have not been many governments so friendly towards the Internet, as the Bulgarian government. That gives me personally not only the theoretical background, but actual practical experience in dealing with the issue of Internet Governance at the highest possible levels. The organization, of which I am chairman of the Board – the Internet Society of Bulgaria has been running for four years now projects in supporting the Bulgarian and other South East European governments in dealing with all legal issues surrounding the Internet. We have been acknowledged both nationally and internationally for the work we do.

Today, we are in the position to help even more – within the IGF, but also at other international events. In the next few weeks, I will be speaking on the positive relationships we’ve built with the government at a number of events – starting with the South African ISPA iWeek, going to Moscow for the VIP conference on development of Internet in Russia, and to Prague for the ICANN Studienkreis. People all over the world are interested to gain experience from the Bulgarian public-private partnership. We made the Internet Governance model work in Bulgaria, with lots of work, with lots of checks and balances. We hope to bring our own expertise to the European Union (Bulgaria is to join in four months, on January 1st, 2007).

We don’t talk about possible theoretical models, that we believe might work. We speak about a working legal framework, accepted by the Parliament, written by the governmental body on information technologies and communications.

That experience gives Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Internet Society, and myself, the confidence that we contribute positively in the whole discussion about the way the Internet could be governed. Because it’s easy to criticize any working model – be that ICANN, IANA, the MoU with the US government, or the IGF. But it’s very difficult to say, “well, we did that in our country, and it works”.

I hope that the IGF in the next three-four years would be able to come with a working theoretical model on how the Internet governance could change, and ICANN be made stronger. I also hope that this theoretical model could be then put on a test bed, and we can all see how it develops.

And in the meantime, I am sure that Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, and other Balkan countries will be bringing the cutting edge of technologies and legal framework together, to show other countries how we can all positively contribute to the global development of the Internet.

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