On Internet Governance
Paper presented by Engr. K Vijayachandran F.I.E
In the seminar organized by Cochin University Union: 26th Sept 2014
I am a barefoot academic in Marxism-Leninism for the past half a century, from the days of my professional training in socialist Czechoslovakia, and a user of Internet for the past two decades, from 1994. I do not think Internet has turned cheaper over the past two decades, nor has its efficacy galloped as made out by its fans.
Rapid developments in micro electronics, computational mathematics and computer networking were the hall marks S&T development during the cold war period, on either side of the ideological divide. Impact of these developments on socialist ideology, politics and working class movement were broadly discussed in two of my articles, which were re-published in my recent book, Perestroika Glasnost and Socialism (1).
Socialist camp led by Soviet Union was a notch ahead of their adversaries in space travel, space communications, computational theories, networking and even supercomputing in the eighties when US President initiated his Star War Program or Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) with the declared objective of better and faster coordination of US military stations around the globe equipped with nuclear war heads (2).
This was a massive project initiated by the Military Industrial Complex (3) under the Pentagon and presided over by President Reagan. Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) was set up in 1984 within the United States Department of Defense, to oversee this program, which brought in the entire R&D net work of US Universities under its umbrella. Present day Internet is counted as the byproduct of SDI which was funded and coordinated by the National Science Foundation (www.nsf.gov), the federal funding agency for S&T programs of strategic importance.
Internet is the latest in communication technologies, after television, radio, wireless communications, telegraph and posts; these are basic infrastructure owned, operated or regulated by national governments and functioning as part of global networks and under international treaties. United Nations Organization (UNO) is the custodian of all global treaties, after its formation in 1945. Many of these treaties were signed even before UNO, some even as early as in eighteenth century; like the International Telecommunication Union-ITU(1865), Universal Postal Union-(1874), or World Meteorological Organization -WMO(1873) or International Labor Organization-ILO(1919).
Internet, broad-band and cell-phone technologies were rapidly getting commercialized during the eighties. Public telecommunication utilities in their capacity as the members of the UN-ITU were well placed to absorb these emerging technologies. However, reforms and restructuring programs designed by the WB-IMF-WTO trio in the unipolar world, had willed that existing public utilities operating in telecoms sector should be blocked from using the emerging technologies: They were branded leviathans incapable of catching up with the dynamics of new technologies and for ensuring super profits.
Brand new global corporations were created by venture capitalists with ultra high-tech business models for leaching on the profit spaces created by Internet and broadband technologies, generated through massive public investments. Draft International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR) for global use and development of Internet resources were introduced in the Melbourne conference of ITU, as early as in 1988. Even after waiting for 24 long years, ITU could not adopt a consensus resolution, due to resistance led by USA. Yahoo, Google & Co had by now established their near total supremacy over Internet under the protection and support provided by USA.
However, despite US resistance and media campaigns by massive money- power, some 89 member states, including the BRIC countries, signed the updated ITR on 14 December 2012 in the WICT-12 held in Doha. Speaking at its closing ceremony, ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, commented: “A clear majority of Member States has already signed the new treaty – and these countries represent not just most of the world’s people, but the great majority of the world’s unconnected people. We understand that some Member States need to go to their capitals and constituencies before they can accede to the new ITRs.” (4)
Dr Touré then went on to state: “The work here has been intense and I appreciate the efforts put in by each and every delegation. The days have been long, and the nights have been even longer. But the dawn has broken on a new day – and a new set of ITRs. And I do not think that we allowed challenges and controversies to divert us from our common goal, to bring the benefits of communications to the 700 million people who still don’t have mobile phone network coverage. And even more importantly to the 4.5 billion people who are not yet online.”
As a continuation of the Dubai meet, consultations were held from 22 to 25 October 2013 in Bali Indonesia, under the Banner of Inter Government Forum 2013 and and a 500+ page report brought out. This was then followed by a Net-mundial meet in Brazil (http://netmundial,brl) a High-Level Multi-stakeholder Committee formed at the Bali meet. This meeting could not finalize the plans for replacing the US dominated Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Thanks to the developments around NSA and Snowden, Brazilian President insisted that key government actors must sign the treaty, making it binding on them not to misuse Internet for spying by Government. US Government may create more problems in implementing the ITR, signed by the majority. In a recent interview to Hindu (2nd Sept 2014) Louis Pouzin, a pioneer academic in French Internet, had stressed the need to end US hegemony over Internet, the vital communication system of the future: He was of the view that, a joint initiative by India, China and Russia could easily accomplish this.
A series of regional consultations are now going on, as part of the consensus building on present-day problems and future research needs of Internet. UNESCO has prioritized the future areas of R&D in the broader interest of humanity (see attached list). Anybody interested could log on to IGF website to follow the day to day developments: This seminar may set up a small working group to interact with IGF and plan to participate in the future regional consultations.
Who invented Internet? It is question, often made out by vested interests to establish that Internet was the brain child of capitalism. Research programs on Internet, like R&D in any other frontier areas of S&T, are formulated, implemented and supervised by public sector with public funds. This was equally true not only for USSR and USA during the cold war years, but also for OECD countries and the socialist camp.
Einstein in his famous essay, Why Socialism?, had theorized on the irrelevance of individual inventiveness in a deeply integrated inter-dependent society (5). Soviet economist A Nikolayev had demonstrated through extensive investigations, how US monopoly corporations appropriate, through the front as well as back door, the benefits of R&D work by public sector institutions and Universities as well as small time inventors (6).
Bill Gates and his Microsoft turned billion dollar institutions through shrewed litigations and not on the strength of their inventive qualities in IT. As twentieth century closed down, IT industry in the US had defrauded the global economy billions of dollars, using the Y2K scare. It has drawn into its fold the best of brains across the world in large numbers, but with very little of real benefits to the global economy and humanity at large.
ITC revolution has the potential to enhance the intellectual productivity of mankind by a thousand fold. But we are not able to realize this, thanks to the chaotic environment that prevails over its governance. That is how the new initiatives by ITU by way of a new set of ITR assumes great relevance and importance at the present juncture of human development. It could also mean a greater role for the UN System in seeking the socialist destiny of mankind (7).
Notes and references:
1.First of these two articles was published in the EPW of 16th August 2008 in response to Prof Prabhath Patnaik’s article under the same title. The second one was written in 2009 as a rejoinder to Peter Druckers theories on State and the knowledge worker. The book (ISBN 978-1-4828-1353-1) is printed in USA and is available in India through Flip-kart.
2. See wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_Defense_Initiative,
3. MIC was set up as advised by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell speech of January 17, 1961 See wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military%E2%80%93industrial_complex
4. See WCIT 2012 document: http://www.itu.int/osg/wcit-12/highlights/dec13-14.html
5. This article was originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review (May 1949). It was subsequently published in May 1998 to commemorate the first issue of MR’s fiftieth year.
6. R&D in social reproduction of Soviet Economist, A Nikolayev was published in 1975 by Progress Publishers Moscow. It is a product of extensive investigations on how big US Corporations appropriate the fruits of R&D generated by public funds and public sector organizations and also highly innovative individuals and tiny enterprises. I remember to have reviewed this book in the Social Scientist Monthly in December 1979.
7. Refers to my paper on the theme “Global Governance, United Nations and Socialism”, presented in the UN Day seminar of at Kochi, last year and published later in the Frontline of November 13, 2003. http://www.frontline.in/world-affairs/new-relevance-of-the-world-body.
Recommended items of extension and research work by IGF:
Ref summary and conclusion part of UNESCO Document on Internet-“Freedom of connection, freedom of expression”
-Continue efforts to support world wide diffusion of the Internet.
– Recognize Internet as a new Arena for the defense of democratic value.
– Renew and inform debate over appropriate regulatory models
-Strengthen and clarify international mechanisms for Internet governance.
-Better monitor worldwide Internet filtering
-Understand shifting public attitudes and expectations
-Cultivate citizen consultation and decision making
– Dissemination of good practice
-Promoting balanced versus absolute positions in the global arena
-Tracking the technologies of filtering and disconnection
-Driving corporate social responsibility
-Identifying and stimulating debate on key issues
-Broadening involvement of with governance and regulations
-Fostering further research