Documentary coverage of IGF-USA by the Imagining the Internet Center

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IGF-USA 2012 Workshop: Can an Open Internet Survive – Challenges and Issues

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Brief session description:

Thursday, July 26, 2012 – This workshop focused on the challenges of keeping the Internet open while simultaneously maintaining a safe and secure environment for individuals, businesses and governments. Governments encounter a wide ranging set of issues and concerns that can limit an open Internet, including the cost of connectivity, spam/malware, intellectual property rights, human rights and objectionable content. Businesses often make decisions for business purposes that may contribute to closing off the Internet. Leaders in governments’ legislative branches, including the US Congress and its counterparts around the world, and business leaders do not always recognize the implications of the actions they take that might negatively influence the Internet. In addition, citizens may voluntarily but without full understanding accept moves that contribute to closing off the Internet, quietly accepting actions and decisions that affect its openness in a negative way. The session worked to identify the key characteristics of an open Internet; the global and national challenges that threaten this; the initiatives pursued to advance the open Internet; multistakeholder engagement to develop and promote an open Internet.

Details of the session:

The session was moderated by Robert Guerra, principal at Privaterra and senior advisor to Citizen Lab in the school of global affairs at the University of Toronto. Panelists were:

  • Ellen Blackler, vice president for global public policy, The Walt Disney Company
  • Thomas Gideon, technical director of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation
  • Andrew McDiarmid, policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology
  • Julian Sanchez, research fellow at the Cato Institute
  • Paul Diaz, director of policy for the Public Interest Registry
  • John Morris, director of Internet policy, office of policy analysis and development of the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Ellen Blackler participates as a panelist about challenges and issues facing an open Internet at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

Between copyright infringement, intellectual property, piracy and protection of online privacy, the openness of the Internet is being threatened on all sides, according to six IGF-USA panelists, who gathered to define and assess the challenges to an open Internet Thursday at Georgetown Law Center.

“The free and open Internet oughtn’t be a free-for-all,” said Ellen Blackler, vice president for global public policy for The Walt Disney Company.

A focus on the balance between maintaining an open Internet while ensuring security and privacy and minimizing piracy has always loomed as one of the largest challenges to the future of the Internet. While members of this panel represented diverse Internet backgrounds, the all agreed that Internet policy must and will continue to evolve with challenges posed by the struggle between these often-competing values.

What is Internet openness?

The definition of an open Internet differs even within seasoned IGF attendees.

John Morris of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) cited the principles of Internet openness recommended by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) last year, which highlight several key characteristics, including the opportunities for both collaboration and independent work.

An open Internet allows users to operate “independently of one another, so as not to have a centralized single body to control or impose regulations,” Morris said.

The Internet policymaking process additionally needs to be open for collaboration, Morris said.

“What is it that keeps barriers low, what steps can we take to address challenges?” asked Andrew McDiarmid, policy analyst for the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT). “It’s about learning … to keep the process more open and open to more voices.”

Though the openness of the Internet is one of the Web’s key characteristics, challenges ensue when openness trumps privacy.

“The openness principle has failed the public in privacy interest,” Blackler said.

U.S. policies directly affect those abroad

In the United States, Internet access is virtually everywhere, but the major challenge for Internet openness in many other parts of the world is online accessibility, especially in remote areas and in developing nations.

Robert Guerra acts as moderator during a workshop about challenges and issues facing an open Internet at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

“Access at an affordable cost is key because then we can innovate,” said panel moderator Robert Guerra, the founder of Privaterra.

Panelists agreed that though global policies across the board on the issues tied to Internet openness are unlikely to be established due to differing cultural values and standards from country to country, cooperation on the international scale is still quite important.

“Not that I think we need to achieve one global norm about a particular issue, but we need to achieve a global level of interoperability,” Morris said.

In some countries, global Internet operability is a major issue due to government blocking and filtering–the management of what content citizens may or may not access or share. Thomas Gideon of the Open Technology Institute noted the difficulties that global policymakers face with nations that exercise a great deal of control over available content.

“A large part of what I do in my work is to defend human rights online,” Gideon said. “That’s equally fraught with the risks that those trying to speak freely in contentious and crisis regimes face.”

Paul Diaz, director of policy for the Public Interest Registry noted the challenge of governance measures working locally and globally. “What works in one environment, what may work here in the US, is not necessarily applicable in another country” he said. Ultimately, the Internet is global and therein lies the challenge.”

Piracy and copyright: What is the solution?

When discussing the widespread nature of piracy online and the difficulty in regulating it, panelists differed in their preferred approach to dealing with the challenges of intellectual and copyrighted property.

“Companies like Netflix are slowly finding ways to shift from a product to a service model,” Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, said, suggesting this as one successful choice for property owners.

Sanchez argued that the best way to discourage piracy is to create services that offer consumers a wide variety of choices and control over consumption of goods at a fair price. He said this is a better method than exclusively offering products that can be copied and shared and pirated just as easily.

Private niches online: Social networking and the cloud

With the advent of social networking and the desire to share and access personal information, the Internet includes private and targeted content, as well.

Sanchez emphasized that the structure of the Internet should be seen more as a network of people and relationships than as a technological architecture.

Facebook’s Sarah Wynn-Williams said social networking represents the “desire for people to connect and share and be open,” adding that the future of Internet policy must meet these demands and “preserve the ability of people to [share personal content online,] which is genuinely under threat.”

Panelists also noted that files shared through cloud data storage continue to be as difficult to regulate as physically shared materials. Just as the government has often largely chosen not to investigate copied CDs or cassettes that become distributed among friends, content in the cloud is as difficult to trace and regulate.

— Madison Margeson

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IGF-USA 2012 Opening Plenary Roundtable: Emerging Internet Issues – Governments or Governance?

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Brief session description:

Thursday, July 26, 2012 – This major session of the opening plenary of IGF-USA discussed the current state of play with various proposals ranging from the WCIT, the UN Commission on Science and Technology and Enhanced Cooperation, areas where more government may be called for from their perspective or strong improvements in “governance.” Panelists offered a range of perspectives about government and governance.

Details of the session:

The session was moderated by Marilyn Cade, the chief catalyst of IGF-USA. Panelists included:

  • Rebecca MacKinnon, the Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation
  • Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center
  • Jacquelynn L. Ruff, vice president of International Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs for Verizon Communications
  • Paul Brigner, the regional bureau director of the North American Bureau at the Internet Society
  • John Curran, president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers
  • Kristin Peterson, co-founder and CEO of Inveneo
  • Fiona Alexander, associate administrator of the Office of International Affairs at NTIA

If there’s a keyword lying at the heart of the Internet Governance Forum it is “multistakeholder.” Key is the belief that individuals from various backgrounds—from private industry to civil society to government to academia—benefit from gathering and discussing their visions for the future, and the viability thereof. Whether they’re able to reach any consensus after gathering and discussing the issues is another matter entirely.

The 2012 IGF-USA conference, held at Georgetown Law Center in Washington, D.C., Thursday, opened with a panel showing just how diverse these individuals can be, and how varied their focus is in regard to the pressing issues facing the parties looking to influence the continued growth of the Internet.

Rebecca MacKinnon from the New American Foundation speaks at the Opening Plenary Roundtable at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

Rebecca MacKinnonof the New America Foundation opened the seven-member discussion by highlighting the importance of the “digital commons,” the non-commercial backbone providing structure to a number of vital digital institutions. Because of the shared nature of this backbone, which stretches across traditional nation-state boundaries, MacKinnon said she believes the world is on the verge of a reformation of the current governing concepts, as individual states try to gain control over institutions that involve those beyond their jurisdiction.

In the modern era, MacKinnon asserted, individuals are “not just citizens of nation-states and communities, we’re citizens of the Internet.”

“We have to be informed about how power is exercised,” she continued, highlighting a need for everyone involved to play their part in shaping the direction of the Internet’s evolution.

This, in turn, circles back to not just the perceived necessity for multi-stakeholder solutions, but the lingering questions as to how those solutions are reached.

“How do we ensure that the policy-making mechanisms actually allow input from all affected stakeholders?” MacKinnon asked.

She theorized that societies are on the precipice of a “Magna Carta” moment, in which the traditional concepts that dictate the ways in which governments work will be disrupted by this multistakeholder model.

This drew some rebuttals to some degree from other members of the panel.

Fiona Alexander, associate administrator at the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, agreed with MacKinnon that some nations may be standing at that edge, but said the Magna Carta moment isn’t to be expected of every country, or even every stakeholder taking part in current dialogue.

“They [unnamed stakeholders] have in many cases failed to live up to what’s expected of them,” she said, which leaves those advocating for multistakeholder solutions in a situation where they’re defending a model for governance under siege, fostering doubts for its efficacy.

And a large number of those stakeholders are far behind those in developed, Western countries in regard to Internet penetration.

Fiona Alexander speaks at the Opening Plenary Roundtable at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

Kristin Peterson, co-founder and CEO of Inveneo, a non-profit organization dedicated to the proliferation of communications technology in the developing world, shared just how much work needs to be done in bridging the gap between dominant Internet stakeholders and those just attaining reasonable access to the Web.

“Internet access is important not just on individual level, but on a functional level, an organizational level,” she said.

Part of this is due to the remoteness of developing, rural areas, which drives up the cost of infrastructure to a counterproductive degree.

A single 1MB connection, Peterson highlighted, which would be suitable for a school or a medical clinic, costs upwards of $800 a month in Haiti. Another unnamed country that Inveneo has worked with has less than 100MB in total. And that 1MB of Internet access? It costs roughly $2,000 per month.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, far removed from countries just beginning to break down the barriers preventing them from gaining full access to the Internet, are stakeholders who, in the minds of some, will have an inordinate amount of influence over multi-stakeholder debates.

Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, highlighted the influence of corporate entities as one such problem.

Comparing growing corporate influence over the Internet to “the clouds gathering at the beginning of a Batman movie,” Rotenberg warned those in attendance, “You have to pay attention when the skies darken, things are about to happen.”

One such entity, which Rotenberg accused of having an ever-growing outsized influence over the Internet, is Google, whose growing presence on the Web is the “Number-one threat to Internet freedom.”

Regardless of whether that’s the case, such problems do require a means to draw in those affected by the evolving dialogue on Internet governance.

John Curran speaks at the Opening Plenary Roundtable at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

“How do we get people engaged, how do we raise a flag and pull in society, business, governments?” asked John Curran, president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers.

Curran offered perspective into the scope of the problems facing Internet stakeholders, the shape of which appears on multiple layers, with technological standards and protocols existing at the bottom layer. They require little political involvement, moving up to domain names and IP addresses, which aren’t necessarily the most hot-button social issues under debate within the halls of Congress. Nonetheless, they bring about privacy and tracking concerns, peaking with the broad, end-user experiences that draw in such general topics as intellectual property use, censorship and national security.

And, of course, given the nature of IGF, the multistakeholder model is seen as the best means to approach such problems.

Paul Brigner, the regional director of the North American Bureau at the Internet Society and Jacquelynn Ruff, vice president of international public policy and regulatory affairs for Verizon, offered insight into how new players are accepting and integrating into the multistakeholder approach.

Telecommunications firms, well aware of the dwindling demand for their traditional services in the wake of the Internet revolution, are “moving away from focusing on traditional telecommunications to Internet protocol and Internet issues,” Brigner said.

Jacquelynn Ruff speaks at the Opening Plenary Roundtable at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

An issue such as the possible transition to a sending party pays structure, for example, is an issue that demands the inclusion and participation of a multitude of affected parties. Under such a regime, “You’re not free, necessarily, to innovate at low cost like you experience today,” Brigner said. “The end-to-end nature of the Internet that allows these sort of things to evolve.”

To alleviate some of the difficulty inherent in such discussions, Ruff cited the importance of enhanced cooperation, the notion of mapping past developments, current deficiencies and projecting future ambitions in a way that involves all interested parties. Emphasizing examples within UNESCO, ICANN and the Council of Europe, Ruff celebrated enhanced cooperation’s increasing rate of adoption.

The world is at “a fork in the road on the global discussion on where the future lies,” she said. And applying enhanced cooperation to the traditional multi-stakeholder methodology could be an effective means to remedy the arguments over which path to take.

That said, a plethora of stakeholders have their own interpretation and they will be seizing the opportunities granted by this IGF event and future conferences to throw their hat into the ring drawn by the opening plenary session’s panelists.

— Morgan Little