Governments shouldn’t run Internet, says CIRA head

There’s room for governments to play a larger role in overseeing the Internet, says the head of this country’s Internet registry, but they shouldn’t push out independent organizations whose efforts have made the Web a success.

“I’m not anti-government,” Byron Holland, CEO of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) told an Ottawa conference Thursday. “There’s a critical role for government in the management of the Internet. But in my opinion that role should not come at the expense of other stakeholders.”

His comments came 10 days before the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an arm of the United Nations, holds its Plenipotentiary Conference in South Korea. As happened at a 2012 ITU conference in Dubai, he warned some countries are expected to try to pass resolutions that directly or indirectly put Internet control in the hands of the ITU and away from agencies like the Internet Society, CIRA, the IEEE and others.

But, Holland said, the multi-stakeholder model, which gives all participants a voice in critical decisions, has been “tremendously successful. It’s driven innovation and creativity that has made the Internet a force. A multilateral treaty-based institution would exclude the people that has made it a, would exclude business, civil society, the technical community, youth. And it would be a slower, bureaucratic processes, likely able not react in Internet time, and detrimental to the ethos as Internet and to its resilient, distributed structures that have responsible for its dramatic growth.”

Holland was speaking at the fifth Canadian Internet forum CIRA has held for Internet researchers and service providers.

Non-Western countries wanting a seat at the Internet governance tables is understandable, he told the audience.

In the next five years 3 billion more people will sign onto the Internet, he said. Few will be native English speakers, and they will not have grown up in Western cultures and politics. They will have different philosophical ideas than us. Most Westerners believe of in an Internet free of censorship and content blocking, but in other parts of the world they expect certain things be not carried on a public medium.

Still, he added, “they have every right to have full access to the benefits of the Internet has brought us in the developed world – and, I would argue, have more to gain.”

“As they come online we need to be sure we do so in a way that strikes a balance between respecting our global collective political and philosophical differences without losing the ethos of a free and open Internet. Because it’s that governance model that has enabled the Internet to be the success it is today.”

Some governments believe that despite the multi-stakeholder framework the U.S. controls the Internet. In part, Holland said, that came after last year’s revelations on U.S. Internet surveillance. It’s also in part is because Washington, through the Commerce department, has control over the Internet’s root zone file. It contracts that out to ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), which in turn allows organizations like CIRA to oversee local domains. However, in March the Commerce department said when its current contract runs out it would like to see a broader body take it over.

Washington has set a deadline of September, 2015 for proposals, Holland said, so now is the time Canadians should be thinking about what kind of Internet governance this country should advocate.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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