Text: Small Text  Normal Text  Large Text  Larger Text
  • Blog

Blog Archive

PrevPrevJune 2012NextNext
Michael Geist's Blog

UN Internet Takeover Rumours Mask Bigger Governance Shortcomings

Appeared in the Toronto Star on June 10, 2012 as UN Internet Takeover Rumours Mask Bigger Governance Shortcomings

In recent months the Internet has been buzzing about the prospect of a United Nations "takeover" of the Internet, including responsibility for governance of the domain name system. The concern hit a fever pitch late last month when the U.S. Congress held hearings on the issue. A steady stream of technology companies and consumer groups expressed fears with potential U.N. and foreign government involvement and members of Congress pledged to take a strong stand against the takeover.

While a U.N. takeover would indeed be cause for serious concern, the reality is far more complex and somewhat less ominous. This issue has been festering for over 15 years and is less about whether there will be efforts at governmental control and more about which government controls.

The U.S. government established the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a private, non-profit entity based in California in 1998, granting it responsibility for Internet governance leadership. ICANN was created with a vision of an open, transparent and multi-stakeholder approach, where Internet users, companies, interest groups, and governments could all participate in the development of policies such as the creation and management of new domain name extensions, the privacy rules associated with registration information, and the development of dispute resolution policies for contested domain names.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a U.N. body, was never happy with U.S. leadership and the ICANN model, embarking on several efforts to assert greater influence over Internet governance issues.

In 1996, it attempted to take control over the management of the domain name system but failed to do so (leading to the creation of ICANN). Several years later, it was the engine behind the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which raised the prospect of dramatic change to the Internet governance model and a far more assertive role for national governments.  The ITU-backed WSIS initiative had support from many countries around the world, but the U.S. and its supporters (which included Canada) were able to keep the existing system largely intact.  

The latest concerns arise from the World Conference on International Telecommunications, scheduled for Dubai later this year. The ITU is rumoured to be ready to take another shot at Internet governance control, a fear fueled by the notorious secrecy associated with the conference documents (the actual proposals were leaked on the Internet last week).

Given past history, there is little reason to believe the ITU will succeed. Yet the issue is likely to recur for as long as the U.S. treats the Internet as its own.

Successive administrations have regularly pressured ICANN on various policy matters, including efforts to get it to drop plans to create a dot-xxx domain (after years of global consultation and the development of a neutral process for approval) and expressed serious reservations with the introduction of hundreds of new domain name extensions. While a multi-stakeholder approach means that governments have an opportunity to express their views on policy issues, the U.S. seems to believe that some views count more than others.

In fact, some of the same U.S. politicians who expressed outrage over the ITU plans only months ago were supporters of the Stop Online Piracy Act, the now-defeated controversial anti-piracy bill that included provisions that meddled with the domain name system.

The current controversy misses the bigger point that Internet governance still lacks a strong, universal commitment to a multi-stakeholder approach that includes governments, business, and civil society groups working together to develop policies that best reflect the views of the global Internet community.

Developing such policies is frustratingly time consuming and difficult – as any policy that implicates billions of people and the world’s most important communication system would be. Yet an inclusive and transparent system offers far more than the current unappealing alternatives of either secretive U.N. involvement or U.S. assertion of greater control whenever challenging policy issues arise.  

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

Share: Slashdot, Digg, Del.icio.us, Newsfeeder, Reddit, StumbleUpon, TwitterTagsShare

Why Bill C-11's Digital Lock Rules May Hurt Copyright Enforcement

The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, which is continuing its study on intellectual property, received some important evidence last week from an Ottawa firm focused on IP enforcement issues. Harry Page, the CEO of UBM TechInsights, told the committee that Bill C-11 will actually impede the ability to enforce intellectual property rights. Page's concern is the same as that expressed by businesses, consumer groups, education: overbroad digital lock rules. According to Page:

we have a concern that aspects of the Copyright Act may actually have an unintended consequence with respect to our local technology community and our ability help people in the protection of their intellectual property. Specifically, our concern is that the anti-circumvention provisions could create legal uncertainty where that would actually discourage the use of forensics to detect infringement of other forms of intellectual property. Even though the fact is that the circumvention of those protection measures actually have nothing to do with the copyright material under protection.

While the committee legislation is now passed and will soon be enacted we will continue our pledge to continue to work with the government and the appropriate bodies to ensure that the regulatory language bringing the act into force are clear and precise so they do not hinder the full and forceful protection of Canadian intellectual property and the protection of intellectual property creators and owners in the international marketplace.

Share: Slashdot, Digg, Del.icio.us, Newsfeeder, Reddit, StumbleUpon, TwitterTagsShare

CRTC on Over-The-Top Video: Opportunity Not Threat

CRTC Commissioner Peter Menzies delivered a speech for Len Katz yesterday at the Banff World Media Festival, which featured some notable comments about over-the-video services such as Netflix:

OTT is an exciting new way to reach out to people. Let's not think of it as a threat to Canadian content. Let's think of it as an opportunity for Canadian content—an opportunity to export and promote it around the world. Canadians have the talent and creativity to produce programming that can connect with audiences around the globe: our documentaries, our drama, our comedies, our variety and children's programming. We have been relying on a subsidized regime to support our own programming so that it can compete with programming supported by a much larger audience base. This model is becoming less and less relevant. 
Share: Slashdot, Digg, Del.icio.us, Newsfeeder, Reddit, StumbleUpon, TwitterTagsShare