by Aaron Bowen, MLIS Day
ASIS&T 2005 and Internet Governance at the World Summit on the Information Society.
Since I last wrote, two events of particular significance to studies of international information have taken place. The first is the 2005 ASIS&T conference, which featured an extensive set of panels discussing a variety of international information issues. I took away a host of new ideas on this international information from the panel presentations which will continue to shape my thinking about the globalization of information as I continue my studies and move into a career in this field. I also attended the business meetings of SIG-III (where I am a student officer). In addition to discussing future initiatives our interests group will undertake I agreed to co-moderate the Global Information Village Plaza (see link at the left of the SIG-III page) at the 2006 meeting. I thoroughly enjoyed the International Reception as well, which offered the opportunity to meet colleagues from around the world.
The other big event is the second round of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which was held in Tunis from November 16th to 18th of 2005. At this summit the issue of Internet governance received particular attention. The Brazilian government called for a change to the status quo of Internet governance and proposed its own national system as a model for global Internet moderation. This begs the question of whether the Brazilian model is useful as a framework for international Internet governance.
Internet development in Brazil was not a simple or smooth process. Over the past fifteen years it has faced such challenges as the diffusion of Internet-related hardware and services outside of Brazilís major urban centers, the costs of Internet access through the Brazilian telecommunications industry, an increasing digital divide in Brazilian society between citizens with Internet access and those without, a government making a challenging transition from military autocracy to modern democracy, and, through this governmental metamorphosis, a transition from protectionist policies to open markets in the IT industry.
Between 1990 and 2003 the Brazilian government refined various policies in order to respond to these challenges. Concerning Internet-related hardware and services, Ernest J. Wilson (2004: 126) writes that Brazil espoused protectionist policies in its computer industry from circa 1977 to the repeal of protectionist legislation in 1992. Occurring largely during the period when Brazilian politics were effectively controlled by the military, Wilson (2004: 124) adds that this governing regime recognized the importance of the Brazilian technology sector, and therefore actively supported it and protected it from foreign competition. But under pressure from the Reagan Administration and the ever-strengthening forces of globalization, Brazil adopted a more free market-oriented model in 1992 (Wilson, 2004: 126-7).
While the IT hardware and services markets were opening up, The Brazilian government supported the construction of a strong network backbone. Page eight of this 2002 ITU report describes the creation the Rede Nacional de Ensino e Pesquisa (RNP) in 1989, whose mandate was to implement and operate the network. The RNP built the network between 1991 and 1993, and continuously upgraded it between 1994 and 1998. The privatization of the national Brazilian phone company in 1998 allowed an increasing number of telecommunications carriers to develop their own fiber optic networks to operate alongside the RNPís network.
All of these technical developments created a need for a national Internet governance policy and a government body to implement that policy. Thus in May of 1995 the ComitÍ Gestor da Internet no Brasil (CGI.br) was formed to fill this need. Between 1995 and 2003, however, CGI.br had no steering committee or forum in which the various sectors of the Brazilian economy could discuss Internet governance. Responding to calls for clarification on who possessed a voice in governing Brazilís Internet services, such as this 2003 document signed by 17 Brazilian non-profit organizations calling for an oversight committee to ensure a plurality of voices in CGI.br, President Lula da Silva issued Presidential Decree No. 4,829 on September 3, 2003. This decree changed the structure of CGI.br to include a 21 member steering committee, which serves as the current governing regime.
Analyses of the success or failure of the revamped CGI.br are still relatively few, given the fact that it has only been in operation for a little more than two years. It has however received positive endorsements from Waudo Siganga on behalf of the Working Group on Internet Governance (part of the UN) and in a paper prepared for the Third World Institute by Carlos Afonso, a prominent Brazilian Internet liberalization activist.
Despite these positive reviews, the Brazilian model of Internet governance still poses challenges. Siganga notes in particular that a Brazilian-style steering committee done on a global scale currently does not feature in the governance structure of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the California-based organization that currently assigns and manages top-level domain names such as .com, .net, and .org. ICANN would have to be convinced about the need for these committees, and then incorporate them into its structure.
Furthermore, as this letter by Carlos Guiterrez and Condi Rice shows, the U.S. Government is not in favor of any sort of international governance model. The U.S. Government is currently in charge of ICANN, and although ICANNís operations may not top the list of U.S. priorities right now, the U.S. Government is still loathe to cede that control to an international body.
These challenges reflect the fact that the 2003 incarnation of the CGI.br governing structure is not a surefire solution to all the issues relating to Internet governance on a global level. It may however offer the basis for a future governance model depending on the course of future geopolitics and the willingness of nations and Internet users to recognize a steering committee as a legitimate governing body. As such the Brazilian model at least merits consideration as a possible model for such a body.
Wilson III, E.J. 2004. The Information Revolution and Developing Countries. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.