Masters of the Internet, Le Monde Diplomatique
February 12, 2013 3:47 AM   Subscribe

To understand what is at stake we need to make our way through the rhetorical smog. For months prior to the WCIT, the Euro-American press trumpeted warnings that this was to be an epochal clash between upholders of an open Internet and would-be government usurpers, led by authoritarian states like Russia, Iran and China. The terms of reference were set so rigidly that one European telecom company executive called it a campaign of “propaganda warfare” (2). ~ Masters of the Internet, Le Monde Diplomatique
posted by infini (22 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, what bribes did the US pay? I expect it did, as well as strongarming others.

The next big clash, I suspect, with be European Vs American privacy rights.
posted by Mezentian at 4:36 AM on February 12, 2013


Yet again America leads the way in not signing anything it doesn't want to, c.f Kyoto, ICC etc etc ad nauseum.

Also what Mezantian says about bribes - same as with the Iraq war, where America told countries they would withhold aid if said country voted against war.

Very interesting read, great post, thanks.
posted by marienbad at 5:04 AM on February 12, 2013


The United States stomping its heavy foot is one way of looking at it, a way that this article clearly is espousing. It is by no means the only one.

Folks as generally pro-net-freedom as the EFF, Public Knowledge, and Reporters sans frontières / Reporters Without Borders are pretty much on board with the not-signing. (That was pre-conference, but their concerns are pretty much why there was the not-signing).

For an alternate (and closer) perspective, Eli Dourado wrote a very nice account of the WCIT conference for Ars Technica.

For me, if a lot of smart people I respect who spend a lot more time than I do fighting for internet freedom say that the ITU should stay the hell away from the internet, I'm gonna tend to believe them. The US government is no angel, but it hasn't done that bad a job on internet governance - I certainly prefer the US running it to a coalition led by China, Iran, and Russia.
posted by contrarian at 5:41 AM on February 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's quite interesting how an overwhelming majority of US-based "internet freedom" keyboard warriors have been relatively easily co-opted into the "open Internet" fold. For those of us who do not live in the US, reliance for internet governance on boards and organizations with which we have no sway is not the most comforting thought - I doubt Americans would feel too pleased with the system if every single major internet governance organization was based in another state, strategic competitor or otherwise.

This isn't to say the WCIT agreement was the best approach, but if you ultimately conceive of the internet as an international network rather than an American network to which others are granted access (with the implication that that access can be withdrawn), then multinational regulation of the Internet must be the future.
posted by modernnomad at 5:50 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]



This isn't to say the WCIT agreement was the best approach, but if you ultimately conceive of the internet as an international network rather than an American network to which others are granted access (with the implication that that access can be withdrawn), then multinational regulation of the Internet must be the future.


If.
posted by ocschwar at 6:01 AM on February 12, 2013


Ocschwar, you don't see it as an international network?
posted by modernnomad at 6:20 AM on February 12, 2013


If "international network" means "subject to oversight by transnational organizations like the ITU," then fuck no, I don't.

The governing principle of the Internet should remain "rough consensus and working code." People working to develop the next steps in the Internet's evolution should seek forgiveness, not permission. The United States government is the most amenable to running the Internet in this fashion, ergo, the Internet should remain America's baby, and the ITU should fuck off.

Richard III, whose body was just dug up, was the first king to decide that owners of printing presses should seek forgiveness, not permission, about what they print. That is why the Tudors worked so hard to demonize him. See the analogy here?
posted by ocschwar at 6:25 AM on February 12, 2013


Why WCIT was derailed.
posted by adamvasco at 6:26 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ocschwar, you don't see it as an international network?

The internet is a US military system - it's a redundant command-and-control system for the US military, and a way for its research arms to collaborate with industry and educational institutions.

Now, since the US opened it up to its allies, and then the world, it's become a lot more than that, but at its core, the US military created and built the internet, and they see it as a strategic asset as much as a civillian tool of commerce and culture.

If you want to escape US control for reasons of national pride, feel free to use the freely published network standards and source code to create your own national network. Most nations do, and they choose to hook it up to the wider internet, because the benefits are enormous. They're not required to, and in the case of China and Iran, the regime has put in measures to block direct access to police their populace.

What this commission wants to do is determine what nations can or can't do with their networks when hooked into the internet - and they want a tool to force nations with more permissive attitudes to the network to censor and block content and users at another nation's say-so. It's not to free it from the US, but to enslave it to the Chinese, Russian, Iranian and other totalitarian regimes.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:31 AM on February 12, 2013


By the way, modernnomad, the only lever by which America could conceivably cut off another nation from the Internet is through the IANA and changes to the Internet's routing tables.

In the last few decades America has gone to all out war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yugoslavia, and not once used that lever. There is historical precedent. In many wars, belligerents would fight over possession of an urban telephone exchange, but keep it operating even when they knew the enemy was using it. Homage to Catalonia describes this for Barcelona, and there are several books that mention fighting over Jerusalem's telephone exchange during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. (Google Nimra Tanous, who kept the exchange running while the battle for Jerusalem raged around her)

The rest of the Internet's governance is all about standards. If you don't like the American NGOs in charge of it, form your own, write your own, show that they work. Nobody's stopping you.
posted by ocschwar at 6:33 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The internet is was a US military system

I fixed that.
posted by Mezentian at 6:42 AM on February 12, 2013


Now, since the US opened it up to its allies, and then the world, it's become a lot more than that, but at its core, the US military created and built the internet, and they see it as a strategic asset as much as a civillian tool of commerce and culture.

Right, this is the point of the FPP - it's not simply about "internet freedom", but at least in part as much about control being a strategic advantage for both the US as a nation and US-based multinational corps in particular. So long as this remains the case, it is not unreasonable to imagine that those on the outside will seek to create institutions that allow them a voice in how the system operates. Do I expect the US to bend over and allow? Of course not, no more than I expect the UK to give up its seat on the security council. But I do reject the rhetoric that it is a battle between advocates of an "open internet" and a cabal run by a bunch of authoritarian states.
posted by modernnomad at 6:48 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So long as this remains the case, it is not unreasonable to imagine that those on the outside will seek to create institutions that allow them a voice in how the system operates.

The only thing stopping Britain from forming, say, a Mobile Web Consortium to compete with the W3C, and not only have a voice but have the louder voice in how the system operates, is that the organization's members will have to settle for meetings where the catered food is Standard Blackpool Chow. I bring this analogy along because a British company is the de facto standard for mobile CPUs right now.

There is absolutely nothing stopping other countries from forming standards bodies that will write competing standards for Internet protocols. Nothing. China has already done it. If the US doesn't change its stance on privacy standards, the EU may in fact do that and wrest standards authority from the US into the hands of the Brussels pod people. The only difference between doing that and putting internet governance into the hands of the ITU is those pesky internet freedom issues.
posted by ocschwar at 7:03 AM on February 12, 2013


I'm extremely pleased by the ITU's defeat because their power grab was bad news that could only lead to censorship.

America does exercise far too much influence over the internet though, but ownership is the problem, not standards. All nations should back their internet infrastructure and services companies, which they then prohibit American companies from buying. An awful lot can be achieved with a little state investment.

Just fyi, we've another post on the U.S. pro-bribery lobby influencing E.U. internet policy, Mezantian.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:25 AM on February 12, 2013


Given America's shamefully slow infrastructure it is only a matter of time before the rest of the world routes around it anyway.
posted by srboisvert at 7:52 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So the article starts by impliying that it's a good thing that the US walked away - since it not walking away would mean more control from China, Russia, etc...

Then it goes on postulating that the US is controlling the internet and that it's a very bad thing.

So all outcomes are terrible?
posted by Riton at 8:02 AM on February 12, 2013


One cyberwar, served chilled, to act as a blowcock. And maybe even a governor.
posted by infini at 8:07 AM on February 12, 2013


I was going to recommend the Ars Technica article written by Eli Dourado, but I see contrarian beat me to it. Anyway, let me second his recommendation that it is worth reading. (Also, Ars is edging into legitimate journalism these days; pretty neat for a site that started off as pretty much nothing but motherboard unboxings and benchmark 'shootouts.')

I'm not hearing anything in the Le Monde piece except whining about US control in the abstract; there are scant reasons given about what's actually wrong with the US's internet leadership, or what another management regime would have or should do differently. That's pretty damning. The closest the author gets to a meaningful critique is pointing out that IANA applies US law "extraterritorial[ly]" to the .com/.net/.org/.edu TLDs. This is a bogus criticism.

The .com/.net/.org/.edu TLDs are part of the United States address space. They should be viewed, from an outsider's perspective, as legacy addresses. It makes complete sense that US law — particularly, that pertaining to trademarks — should prevail here.

The domain name structure that Schiller and other ITU fans seem to want already exists, in the form of country-code TLDs. Each cc-TLD is managed by an authority in that country, and is free to apply that country's laws within it. So that problem is solved. If users and businesses prefer not to use cc-TLDs (in part because many countries have obnoxious processes for obtaining them — a hint of what an ITU / nationally governed Internet would be like), and instead prefer to play in the US's space, then that is their option. Nations could, I suppose, require all businesses to have a web presence in the cc-TLD if they want to encourage their use, or block sites from the US's part of the namespace via DNS (as I believe Iran has occasionally done), but attempting to stick their fingers into the legacy-TLD pie is not a solution.

The last time the "international community" in the form of huge multinational organizations tried their hands at computer networking, what we got from it was the OSI Model: an interesting intellectual exercise, and certainly not devoid of good ideas (in fact I was full of praise for X.500 directory services yesterday, and I meant it), but an unimplementable mess, the very definition of "design by committee" horror. And now we're supposed to give the IT-fucking-U — an organization that makes the ISO look like an exercise in lean processes — get their paws on things. I think not.

If the US negotiators or the US government in general resorts to bribery then I would be disappointed, but not because I think they're wrong to keep the Internet away from the meddlesome bureaucrats that infest the ITU and other similar international organizations; I think they're wrong because there's no need to be expending capital — political or otherwise — on this discussion. The Europeans and the Russians and whoever else wants to whine can whine, we'll say "no", and they can try to build their own Internet (with hookers, if they want) and see how it prevails. I suspect it won't do well; the history of internetworking is littered with the corpses of national networks. The popularity of the US-managed three-letter TLD space versus the cc-TLDs set up for exactly this sort of national governance is an ongoing vote of confidence, and shows that the US has very little to actually be worried about.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:15 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are those who have stated that its false to write design is first about values. This "design" of a business or governance model is embedded with assumptions of "good" based on the United States constitution and cultural norms. That is what might actually be prickling the others jostling for a seat on the table. Value cannot help but be contextually relevant for the most part.

However, its undeniable that there will always be some legacy inventor's benefits that no amount of legislation can take away. So there we are.

Cake? I also have some nice Danish butter cookies?
posted by infini at 8:27 AM on February 12, 2013


However, its undeniable that there will always be some legacy inventor's benefits that no amount of legislation can take away. So there we are.


Greece marches first into the Olympics.

Musical notation is littered with Italian.

Mathematics is full of German.

Navigation requires paying homage to the Greenwich observatory.

So it goes.
posted by ocschwar at 8:31 AM on February 12, 2013


Given America's shamefully slow infrastructure it is only a matter of time before the rest of the world routes around it anyway.

I assume you're talking about consumer-grade / last mile service, because nothing else in that statement really makes sense. The US backbone infrastructure is some of the fastest in the world, certainly on par with that in most of Europe. Most of Verizon's major backbones were running at 100Gb/s back in 2011 (I think using Cisco CRS-3 routers), and I assume they've been upgraded since then; there's a constant speed race between Cisco, Juniper, and Alcatel/Lucent in the core and edge router market.

European countries have done a much better job at promoting Internet access than the US, but that's different than building Internet infrastructure generally.

And the US benefits greatly from the demand for content located on servers here in the US versus the demand by users in the US for foreign content. Put bluntly, the rest of the world wants to be connected to the US much more than users in the US want to be connected to the rest of the world — at least in terms of traffic patterns. And when you have unbalanced traffic on the Internet, or more demand for traffic in one direction than in the other, the side with more demand ends up paying. Although I haven't seen any hard numbers, I suspect that the US domestic backbone infrastructure is subsidized, to some extent, by these traffic patterns.

And it occurs to me that this is probably a factor in France's (and other countries') saber-rattling about making content providers pay.

The US has historically also benefited by providing a "land bridge" between Europe and Asia, due to the lack of alternate routes. This is changing due to an increased number of submarine cables, but I'm not sure it's an indictment of the US infrastructure as much as it's a sign that Euro-Asian traffic is significant enough to warrant massive capital investment. That's really cool, but it doesn't have anything to do with the state of broadband in the US.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:56 AM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Fascinating. I'd always wondered about the politics behind this.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:47 PM on February 12, 2013


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