Access Trumps Internet Ownership Concerns

Recent estimates show the number of Internet users verged on the 2 billion threshold in the second half of 2010. Several issues arise around the implications of this user penetration, but as a result of recent political events, perhaps the most sensitive factor many are now considering worldwide is the ownership — perceived or real — of the technology, rules, applications, and direction of the Internet.

In fact, throughout the high-tech industry, in business and academic circles as well as among political elites, the notion of ownership of the Internet has become the burning issue for the decade. Yet this should not be just an academic exercise, because the answer we offer to the question of ownership will also determine the manner of Internet usage and the formulation of rules governing its development and growth.

The number of people accessing the Internet has grown worldwide more than 400 percent in just the last decade. For countries in the Middle East and Africa, the growth has been even more dramatic, running into a few thousand percentages due to the low starting numbers and the rapid adoption rate over the last 10 years.

It's easy to see why the Internet has taken hold so rapidly in developing countries and also why it has become such a major catalyst in how these societies are evolving. Thanks to the Internet, projects to support education, healthcare, public services, and everything related to citizenship development have been launched and delivered around the world.

However, the old system of absolute control is locked in a fierce struggle with the world of openness and easy accessibility. As the Internet has torn off the veils that were smothering growth, innovation, political and economic development, and emancipation, so has the fractious issue of its ownership become a new flashpoint for disagreement among citizens and political leaders.

Governments in some developing countries have made control of the Internet, and the equipment and applications supporting it, a new battleground that will have an impact on how companies involved in the design, development, and sales of these tools operate their businesses. This has sparked a raging debate on how the Internet should be regulated, the rules to be applied, and who should be in charge of formulating and enforcing any legislation on its use.

The course of the debate is being affected by rapid changes in the technology base as well as the fierce rivalry among OEMs that are flooding the market with a succession of new devices, including smart/WiFi/mobile consoles that may be difficult to control by regulatory authorities.

In December, the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development set up a working group to improve Internet governance. The members were to be drawn only from member states of the United Nations. Following a petition by a group of Internet societies it was decided that participants from business, civil society, the technical and academic communities, and inter-governmental organizations — to a total of 20 — could be invited to join the commission.

The final composition of the team has not been decided, though it's been agreed, in principle, that the discussion on Internet governance must be held with all necessary stakeholders. Extending membership to the academic and scientific community that originally gave birth to the Internet is a positive step for what is likely to be a tough project.

In my opinion, the discussion over the ownership of the Internet is misplaced. At the end of the day the most important issue is not that of ownership or regulation but that of access: how to ensure the availability of this resource to everyone in the world. The UN Commission must not stray from its charge, which was to find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the Internet that are of of particular concern to everyday users.

15 comments on “Access Trumps Internet Ownership Concerns

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    March 8, 2011

    Even with the UN as an organizer of this effort, it inevitable that the debate will become political. Then again, it already is. I agree–access is the most important issue here. As for regulation, I think the technology is always going to stay one step ahead of efforts to regulate the Internet.

  2. AnalyzeThis
    March 8, 2011

    Barbara, my thoughts exactly… any regulation or perceived level of “control” anyone tries to enforce over Internet access is going to be circumvented through other means. We saw this in practice with the attempts to shut down the Internet in Egypt. And as technology improves, circumventing “traditional” means of Internet access will only get even easier.

    The Internet is not something that can be owned or controlled by any one country or organization. I agree with what Matteo says, they're debating the wrong topic.

  3. prabhakar_deosthali
    March 9, 2011

    In one of the Indian movie “REFUGEE”, based upon the indo-pak conflict , there is a famous song which says ” Panchhi, Nadia, Pavan ke Zonke. Sarhad inhe na roke”  which literally means no border can stop birds, rivers and the wind from crossing it over.

    I think like the mother earth, water, the sun, the wind and the sky the INTERNET has become our basic means of living in todays age. It has become so basic like all these other basic things. And like you cannot control the winds from flowing across countries or clouds from crossing the borders , you cannot really control the internet for a specific region or specific purpose.


    The Nature's bounties can be used both for the good as well as bad purpose. The Nature itself does not stop you from that.  Similarly controlling Internet just because some people would misuse it for some wrong ( or political ?) purpose is just not feasible.  We do not stop producing firearms just because the terrorist use the same to take people hostages.

    So we need to have better means of detecting cyber crime or any such misuse of Internet rather than banning the internet itself.

    Internet trule represents a democratic world and we need it to prevade all the borders!



  4. stochastic excursion
    March 9, 2011

    Can the communications infrastructure designed to outlast a nuclear holocaust survive the blowback from Wikileaks and the recent popular uprisings?  My guess is that it has a good shot, but its prospects are at an all-time low. 

    It's been said that capitalism is convincing someone that you own something.  A lot of organizations would *like* to own the internet, but find that the concept of a gatekeeper is inconsistent with the protocols making up the network.  Where there's a will, there's a way however, and just who prevails in this contest will have to be the most willful.

  5. Adeniji Kayode
    March 10, 2011

    when talking of the internet, the question that comes to mind is security. The Internet can never be a forgotten issue in our world any more. We have accomplish so such and we still get so much done daily through the internet. The question we need to ask ourselves is how to make it more secured.

    It's just that while some rules are made to be broken so also it is with the internet. I mean to say while some people are working day and night to make it more secured, some people just develop interest in hacking it just to prove that they are gurus.

  6. ebabbo
    March 10, 2011

    Imagine from prabhakar and adeniji is very fascinating; personally I am with them, Internet is becoming a part of our day-to-day life and it has to remain free and available to increase and share knowledge across the globe. Rules, security & privacy are important to regulate users behaviour, but ownership by Govs or whatever entity is the plein opposite of Internet paradigm.

  7. Matteo Bertozzi
    March 10, 2011

    -Security and shutdown are right concerns raised on your posts; I fully agree with you. I guess Internet will be alive despite events (financial or political) could happen in the future as per model conceived at the time of ARPA project: a best effort network to always reach US remotely troops across the globe.


    I am glad to report a very futuristic experiments in progress:

    -Internet is today a part day-to-day life; not to say is positive or negative, basically it is a fact. As part of day-to-day life, several investigations are in place in order to allow human colonial on the Moon in the future, to deploy a Moon-Internet there and its interworking with Earth-Internet.

  8. itguyphil
    March 10, 2011

    I think that before the internet is pioneered on the Moon, we should get it in poor and remote areas of the world first!

  9. Mr. Roques
    March 10, 2011

    I know Vint Cerf (Google Evangelist) is pushing the interplanetary network to new heights. And while there is some use in that, I'm sure we can do more to reach those communities that are still not connected to the internet.

    Regarding the topic of the post, I think the internet is too big to shut it down, but there are two things you can control: (1) access, as someone pointed out and (2) content. 

    The anonymity of something to be worked on, at least in “regional” networks. I think eventally we will see more “internets”, such as Internet2 (which is for R&D basically) but maybe another group that decide to build their own network and have more control over it. We will have to wait and see…

  10. I&E
    March 11, 2011

    I think post from Matteo is very fascinating; Internet is the only one shared network in terms of ownership which is continuosly doable to provides its services despite ramping of users and services to carry out. Several times happened from local providers to hear “sorry for current issues, it due to intensive traffic condition, we are working to enlarge and expand network capacity”.

    @Roques: many thanks for report Vint Cerf activities, in fact Google for example are trying to conceive a new content architecture just to move and replicate more contents to access in order to avoid strong impact in case of regional shutdown

  11. Matteo Bertozzi
    March 11, 2011

    Good point pocharle, we guess too.
    Anyway missions to explore spatial environment have started a few decades ago and part of scientific results achieved have supported our real life. Of course as you have outlined very well it is really important to expand Internet layer access as medium to share distribute knowledge, education and benefits abroad (and tool to improve industrial processes, including supply chain).

  12. Matteo Bertozzi
    March 11, 2011

    You are right Mr.Roques, we need to consider also in critical condition as very recent and tremendous Earthquake in Japan, Internet is still working and helping a lot communication from there across the globe.

  13. Wale Bakare
    March 12, 2011

    In ranking of living creatures human beings have most overall intelligent. That is why we have been able to employ our senses to conjure different things.

    Internet has become part of us, so we shall continue to leave with it. Infact it has become everything, everwhere. Nevertheless, since the internet has evolved to world, so many researchers, innovators and charity organisations have been contributing to this. Can we really pin-point who the ownership belongs to?If objective of the commission is center around the ownership to oversee issues that are affecting internet's development and growth, is ok. 

    Security in information and communication technology remains a big challenge. I think focus should be drawn towards securing internet from the hack -tivists. In addition, if world could have IANA – internet Assigned Numbers Authority that has been managing internet addresses, why cant similar authority be in place to solely focus on securing internet?




  14. Mr. Roques
    April 16, 2011

    I think the internet as we know it might be too big to be controlled as we want it. As I mentioned in my previous post, another “internet” that users can connect to, instead of the original “internet” might be the solution. Similar to internet2.

  15. Mr. Roques
    April 16, 2011

    Are they replicating information? Does that create IP conflicts? If they store all the info from a region, can they claim it as their own? In a way, they have to, to get routers to go to their servers

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