Centre for Internet & Society

That the internet cannot be governed was a central conviction of the early architects of the internet. In many ways it proved true when a majority of nation-States were kept off interference with the functioning of the internet. However with growing popularity of the internet, countries of the world are increasingly vying for control over it. This has become especially significant with the involvement of developing nations into the power struggle.

With the proposal by India at the UNGA to form a Committee for Internet-Related Policies, there has emerged the widespread fear of “UN overtake of the internet,” and internet governance has become a major focus for internet users in the third world.

The present blog post is a humble attempt to canvass the controversies in the arena of internet governance (IG). These controversies broadly focus around the institutional structures to govern the internet. Here, I first discuss the evolution of these models against the historical background of IG and then proceed to present criticisms of each of these models, with an emphasis on the interests of the regular internet user.

Where It All Started: The World Summit on Information Society

Discussions on IG took an international flavor with the convening of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in mid-2002. The Summit originally had an agenda to construct better telecommunications infrastructure in developing nations to erase the digital divide, as reflected in the self-declared purpose of WSIS as “ to harness the potential of knowledge and technology to promote the development Goals of the Millenium Declaration.” But this agenda was modified in two important ways as WSIS progressed. First, the focus was expanded from mere improvement of infrastructure to a variety of human rights issues involving communications, like freedom of speech and privacy, which came to be known as internet public policy issues. Second, a new dominant agenda of technical governance of the internet emerged.

A New Mode of Governance: multi-stakeholderism on the Internet

Subsequent to the first WSIS phase in Geneva, the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) Report confirmed the larger policy issues concerning the internet rather than mere improvement of telecommunications infrastructure, as an aspect of IG by choosing a broad definition of IG, which included both creation of public policy and technical governance. The Geneva Declaration of 2003, which resulted from the 2002 WSIS process, held that internet governance “should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations.” This multi-stakeholder model for governance with involvement of nation-State participants was reflective of the largely networked management of the internet till the time, and hence pretty revolutionary. The Geneva Declaration however did tone down its revolutionary flavor by dividing the areas of governance concerns between the different multi-stakeholders such that the public policy role was assigned to the nation-States.  It said, at para 49:

  1. a. “Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues;
  2. b. The private sector has had and should continue to have an important role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields;
  3. c. Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters, especially at community level, and should continue to play such a role;
  4. d. Intergovernmental organizations have had and should continue to have a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues;
  5. e. International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.”

This was reaffirmed in 2005 by the Tunis Agenda at para 35. Thus a sectorally-defined multi-stakeholderism for internet governance was agreed upon with traditional forms of State security being protected from large-scale erosion.

Enhanced Co-operation to Govern the Internet

The Tunis Agenda further called for a process called “enhanced co-operation” to enable governments frame international public policy issues related to the internet, but not in the day-to-day technical and operational matters, as follows:

69. We further recognize the need for enhanced cooperation in the future, to enable governments, on an equal footing, to carry out their roles and responsibilities, in international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet, but not in the day-to-day technical and operational matters, that do not impact on international public policy issues.”

The scope of enhanced co-operation however, was not strictly limited to framing of public policy issues of socio-cultural nature, like privacy and freedom of expression on the internet. The Tunis Agenda, in fact, recognizes that enhanced co-operation should include framing of principles on public policy issues related to the CIRs. Such principles are proposed to be global in scope:

70. Using relevant international organizations, such cooperation should include the development of globally-applicable principles on public policy issues associated with the coordination and management of critical Internet resources. In this regard, we call upon the organizations responsible for essential tasks associated with the Internet to contribute to creating an environment that facilitates this development of public policy principles.”

What about the ICANN? : The Problem of US Oversight

As mentioned earlier, during the WSIS process technical governance emerged as an important part of internet governance. And a major feature of technical governance comprised of the control of the organization which administers significant technical aspects of the internet, which was the ICANN.

ICANN is the body largely understood to manage what later came to be known as Critical Internet Resources (CIRs); in other words the basic internet infrastructure. ICANN is a non-profit corporation with a multi-stakeholder model, incorporated under Californian laws in 1998 upon the directive of the US Department of Commerce. Its main functions include the allocation of address blocks to the Regional Internet Registries, coordinating assignment of unique protocol numbers, the management of DNS root zone file.

These functions however are performed under US political oversight under the IANA contract which ICANN has with the U.S. Government. Consequently all edits made to the root zone file must be audited and approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC). This means that any addition or removal of a top-level domain (TLD) must have the approval of DoC. It includes the addition or removal of country-code top level domains (ccTLDs) like .in or .uk. Next there is the DoC contract with Verisign, the US- based corporation which owns the master root server and owns the .com and .net TLDs. This contract requires Verisign to implement all the technical coordination decisions made through ICANN and follow the US Executive directives regarding the root zone file.

The problem is that this political oversight by the US government is not taken very well by the other countries. Why should a single State exercise unilateral power over such important resources which seemingly have the potential to blackout the internet in any part of the world? We all want a share in control over the CIRs, the other States argue. US unilaterism makes functioning of ICANN too arbitrary and it is in US State interests to keep ICANN least accountable, others argue. Add to it the empirical evidence of abuse of its oversight function by the US government, and the legitimacy of the argument is enhanced enormously. However resolving the question of how ICANN should be managed, is a matter of great controversy and none too easy.

Nonetheless it is very important to note that it would be rather naïve to equate the problem of internet governance to the issue of ICANN oversight. Internet governance comprises of both issues: of freedom, privacy, access to knowledge and other aspects of the internet affecting human rights- what is known as internet public policy, as well as technical governance, one of whose aspects is the management of CIRs, and of which ICANN oversight is an important part.

The Oversight-Policy Connection: He Who Manages the CIRs Controls Policy on the Internet

It is fine to say that States will make public policy while sticking to a form of multi-stakeholder model, but none of it holds much ground unless models for implementation of such policy are secured. This is where the issues of technical governance, like ICANN oversight and the framing of public policy on the internet get linked. A procedure to allocate address blocks or separation of registries or registrars raises questions of competition policy. Editing of root zone files can have impact on national economies over the world and be tied with problems of digital divide like multilingualism on the internet. Issue of new TLDs brings forth considerations about trademark law and policy.  New DNS securitization regimes have the potential to hamper national security! In the words of Milton Mueller, “To enforce public policy upon the Internet is to regulate technical and operational matters (and vice-versa).”


In such a scenario, every step to further enhanced co-operation ultimately gets focused upon the ICANN oversight issue, as the latter, with its authority over the management of CIRs, lies at the core of any attempt to frame public policy for the internet.  And so in the subsequent post the focus will be on the various models proposed for ICANN oversight and their respective criticisms. Not least because all of the models proposed for ICANN oversight tie up with one or the other model proposed to further enhanced co-operation.

“Democratise the Internet”: Involve All Nation-States and Only Nation-States

In the last post, I discussed how enhanced co-operation to achieve a mechanism for internet governance under the Tunis Agenda can be classified into two broad portions: development of public policy and a mechanism for technical governance; and how ICANN oversight constitutes an important part of technical governance. I further discussed the relationship between internet public policy and technical governance and how it is impossible to frame or implement relevant public policy without an understanding and control over technical aspects constituting the internet.

In the present post, I embark upon an analysis of the various governance models which are suggested for the management of ICANN. Even though ICANN management is only a small segment of enhanced co-operation, I think there exist a number of parallels between models suggested for the accountability of ICANN and models for furthering the broader process of enhanced co-operation. Therefore an understanding of governance models for ICANN can also significantly enhance one’s understanding of models for enhanced co-operation, and it is to this end that the following exercise is undertaken. Here, I have also tried to link broader models for enhanced co-operation to models for ICANN oversight to aid this understanding; however yet again I do strongly warn against equating enhanced co-operation to the administration of ICANN.

Though multiplicity of proposed governance mechanisms abound, four broad models are popularly debated with regard to oversight upon ICANN. The basic idea behind each of these models is to remove the arbitrariness associated with the ICANN (currently in the form of US unilateral oversight), which as discussed earlier is the central problem with it. Consequently each model offers some rationale about how it can reduce power sans accountability of the ICANN over the CIRs. However none of these models seems to offer the common ground for negotiations for all the stakeholders involved in IG due to various issues with each of them.

I discuss the first model along with its pros and cons in the present post.

Model I: Oversight by an Intergovernmental Organisation

Parallel Enhanced Co-operation Model: International Telecommunications Union (ITU)

This model proposes that the oversight function over ICANN by the US Government be replaced by an organization composed of the nation-State representatives from countries all around the world.


The following arguments are usually advanced in favour of such a model.

  • Democratising the oversight mechanism: It is argued that such a model would be helpful in making the oversight function democratic, as all the governments of the world would now be represented in the oversight regime.
  • Giving nation-States power to enforce public policy: It is argued that by having an intergovernmental oversight mechanism, the governments of the world would be adequately able to exercise their sovereign right as per the Geneva Declaration, i.e. making public policy for the internet.
  • Curtailing the power of non-State actors to make policy decisions: It is argued that by having an intergovernmental oversight mechanism, non-State actors would be prevented from making public policy decisions via technical governance, which private interests and unelected representatives should not have the power to do.
  • Making use of international law to produce accountability: The current ICANN regime functions in US and is subject to US laws, which those outside the US, deem to be not a great situation. It is obvious that such dissatisfaction arises from the fact that US laws are subject to change by the US Congress, which non-US nationals have no representation in. The argument therefore is to use international law, which is global in scope in order to govern ICANN, rather than a country-specific law.

The ITU is an enhanced co-operation model in this regard, as it provides the intergovernmental mechanism which the above model for ICANN oversight envisions. It is supported by the more countries like China and Russia, which lay store by Statist institutions. Though no formal takeover of the ICANN by the ITU has been agreed to, or even the use of ITU as such, to make public policy for the internet, in pursuance of enhanced co-operation, the Temporary Document-64, containing proposals for the amendment of ITRs to expand ITU’s scope to the internet at the upcoming World Congress on Information Technology in November 2012, seems to advocate for such a mechanism. Although it is to be noted that there are no comments regarding ITU’s role social policy issues on the web, like censorship.


The intergovernmental oversight/enhanced co-operation model is however criticized on the following grounds.

  • Erosion of bottom-up processes: It is argued that the intergovernmental model of oversight is a stark degradation of the bottom-up processes on which the internet has been built and flourished. In other words, intergovernmental oversight is likely to hamper democratic management of CIRs, as on the international arena, States represent their interest as States (interests like national security and defence concerns) and not the interests of their citizens. Add to this the fact that not all States of the world are democratically elected, and one begins to see a major anti-democracy stance in this model. In such a scenario it is likely that the CIR management process would be used to further geopolitical rivalries between nation-States rather than promote public interest.
  • International law is not carved in citizens’ interests: This is an extension of the previous argument as it says that international law has been structured to serve the interests of sovereign powers and not that of individual citizens, a.k.a. internet users. Institutions under international law for protecting human rights are not strong and the relevant processes are slow and ineffective. Additionally, it is argued that in case ICANN is internationalized, it will be subject purely to the whims of the governments of the world and will have even less accountability.
  • Intergovernmental oversight will slow down technical processes: From the viewpoint of the technical community, intergovernmental oversight will slow down technical functioning and decision-making by miring it in layers of bureaucracy. Such a structure would be in stark contrast with the very architectural rationale of the internet: a free and fast medium of communication realised by the end-to-end principle. It will also slow down the growth of the internet and is likely to overturn decades of hard work by the technical community with the use of Veto powers in every stage of decision-making by the oversight committee and limited understanding of the internet architecture.
  • Promotion of traditional communications industry at behest of internet industry: It is also largely perceived that the most nation-States in the world, with strong lobbies for traditional communications industry will use their power in ICANN oversight to retard the growth of internet communications. A recent example is the case of Ethiopia where use of VOIP services can be punished with upto 15 years in prison, in order to preserve the State-owned telephone monopoly. With ITU as the parallel enhanced-co-operation model this threat becomes even more severe as ITU is dominated by giant telecom companies which will push to no end to restrict competition from the internet sector.
  • Fragmentation of global internet into national internets: This is a worst-case scenario envisioned by the critics who believe that this model has the potential to fragment the one global internet into a multitude of nationally regulated internets, because of the high level of power given to nation-States, who would try to strengthen their sovereignty claims over the internet. Some steps in this direction have already been set in motion by the Chinese government, underlining that the threat of such a worst-case scenario may be very real.

The next post analyses another model for ICANN governance: a hierarchical multi-stakeholder model, and which by analogy can be extended to a model for enhanced co-operation.

Call for Multi-stakeholder Governance (With The Appropriate Regulation)

In the last post I discussed the pros and cons of an intergovernmental model for ensuring accountability of the ICANN.  In this post, I analyse the second broad model of oversight of ICANN by a hierarchical multi-stakeholder organization. By analogy, a parallel model for enhanced co-operation would be the Committee On Internet Related Policies proposed by India at the UN.

Model II: Oversight by a Hierarchical multi-stakeholder Organisation

Parallel Enhanced Co-operation Model: Committee on Internet Related Policies (CIRP)

This model was developed to temper the unlimited power of nation-States in the intergovernmental oversight model. The simple idea here is add more stakeholders into the oversight mechanism process so that the national governments are held accountable to the other stakeholders and vice-versa. Although a major departure from previous governance models by allowing for the participation of all stakeholders in the governance process, this model still predicates itself upon the nation-State hegemony. This it does by assigning decision-making privileges only to the States, while the other stakeholders are relegated to a position where they can participate only in policy discussion processes.

The UN Committee on Internet-Related Policies (CIRP) proposed by the Indian government is a model which embodies the above structure of functioning in matters of enhanced co-operation. It proposes the formation of four advisory bodies involving the stakeholders identified by the Tunis Agenda i.e. the Civil Society, the Private Sector, Inter-Governmental and International Organisations, and the Technical and Academic Community. These four advisory bodies would discuss policy issues and inputs from each of these bodies would then be submitted to the CIRP which would be composed of representatives of 50 nation-States, chosen or elected on the basis of equitable geographical representation. The CIRP would report annually to the UN General Assembly to present its recommendations.

However, many aspects of the CIRP proposal still remain unclear: for example- the budgetary structure, its relationship with the ICANN and the questionable need for an advisory body composed of international and intergovernmental organisations for a committee already composed of nation-States.

However taking into account that a CIRP-like model embodying the hierarchical multi-stakeholder structure does have the potential to discharge the ICANN oversight function, a broad analysis can be made regarding its pros and cons, without going into the fine details of the CIRP proposal specifically.


In support of the hierarchical multi-stakeholder model, certain additional arguments are made apart from the arguments already made in favour of an intergovernmental model for ICANN oversight. These are as following:

  • Strengthening bottom-up processes: It is argued that such a model takes into account and preserves the multi-stakeholder structure upon which the internet has been built and thrived. Involvement of all stakeholders in internet governance is further deemed to be important to understand various aspects of the internet in terms of technical functioning and community impact, and to preserve the free flow of information—areas which might not be fully understood by nation-States. Hence, being informed by the relevant stakeholders in this regard would be crucial to good policy-making processes by consolidating bottom-up processes in internet governance.

  • Control on unlimited power of nation-States: It is argued that such a multi-stakeholder model is also important to curtail the power of nation-States to dominate the internet as has been the case with other traditional media. The potential of the internet lies in the low-cost tools of communication to a global audience that it provides an individual user. This potential however is always under the threat of erosion by Statist interests, which would typically like to control the information flowing into their jurisdiction by putting forth the argument of sovereignty. A multi-stakeholder model in such a scenario, can act as a check upon the furtherance of the interests of nation-States, which cannot always be equated to public interest, especially with concerns like freedom of expression and privacy.


The hierarchical multi-stakeholder model of internet governance however comes under criticism upon the following grounds:

  • Problems in recognition of stakeholders: A recurring problem with regard to any multi-stakeholder model is how to define who constitutes “a stakeholder” in internet governance. This problem was encountered even during the IGF constitution process, where the proposal for election of multi-stakeholder representatives to the MAG was swept off in favour of the nomination of the members.  In a multi-stakeholder model therefore, deciding who can participate in the policy process as a “stakeholder” remains a tough task. In this context, a civil society representative may end up participating in the policy process without having the support or recognition of the civil society. Another perspective may even ask if nation-States can be deemed as stakeholders in internet governance. The problem of who defines, legitimizes and authorizes “a stakeholder” to be one then comes increasingly to fore.
  • Failure to provide a useful check upon Statist power: Though the present multi-stakeholder model claims to confine unlimited Statist power on the future of the internet, the question is does it really help in achieving the same? Because the ultimate policy decision making power in such a model lies with the nation-States themselves. Which implies that substantive power would still lie with nation-States who are likely to use it aggressively to further their interests. The multi-stakeholder structure then manages to be reduced to a mere symbol for bottom-up processes, but in fact fails to ensure the implementation of the same.

In the subsequent post, I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of another model for ICANN governance: an equal-footing multi-stakeholder model, and which by analogy can be extended to a model for enhanced co-operation.

Equality in Multi-stakeholderism: How Great Is That Idea?

I have discussed previously the pros and cons of an intergovernmental model and a hierarchical multi-stakeholder model for the management of ICANN, and by analogy for the furtherance of enhanced co-operation. In this post, I analyse a third broad model of oversight of ICANN by an equal-footing multi-stakeholder organization.

Model III: Oversight by a Equal-Footing Multi-stakeholder Organisation

Parallel Enhanced Co-operation Model: Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Model III is a modification of Model II in that it allows for the participation of all stakeholders in not just policy deliberation but also policy decision. Apart from the argument that policy decisions should be confined to nation-States who are the representatives of their citizens, it cannot be denied that a political inertia prevails for the non-involvement of other stakeholders in decision-making processes as any such move would be unprecedented. At the December 2010 UNCSTD conference, it was argued by India that the involvement of stakeholders apart from the nation-State representatives in the finalization of policy would be in contradiction to UN procedural rules.  The question then arises why such a multi-stakeholder body cannot be relegated to an extra-UN forum. Pursuant to this, some critics of the hierarchical multi-stakeholder model have suggested the expansion of the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to decision-making processes. Though the IGF is convened by the CSTD, which is a part of the ECOSOC, it is not a body falling under UN umbrella and has flexible procedures which grant each stakeholder an equal footing in policy discussion. Private sector and civil society discuss policy with nation-State representatives on an equal status. The IGF however, is perceived to be a largely dying forum as it does not presently have the power to further enhanced co-operation, i.e. it cannot take decisions with respect to internet policy. This has heightened the sense of dissatisfaction with IGF especially among the newly developing countries, who have come to view the IGF as a mechanism to foster the status quo which is favourable to the developed nations, particularly the US. Expansion of IGF mandate to policy decision-making could however mean that an enhanced co-operation mechanism including an oversight body for ICANN is put into place within an equal-footing multi-stakeholder model.


Arguments in favour of such model build up as following:

  • True multi-stakeholder participation: The present model seems to offer what the hierarchical multi-stakeholder model couldn’t—that is, the participation of all stakeholders at all levels of policy making.
  • Effective checks on nation-State power: By ensuring the participation of all stakeholders in policy discussion and decision processes, the equal-footing multi-stakeholder model effectively checks the power of each stakeholder in unilaterally advancing its own interests.


But all is not pink and perfect even here. The criticisms of this model run as following:

  • Use of unelected representatives in decision-making: The problem of recognition of stakeholder representatives has already been outlined earlier. The equal-footing multi-stakeholder model seems to compound this problem by additionally giving the stakeholders whose legitimacy is questionable, a say in the decision-making process. This has been criticized as undemocratic. The involvement of the private sector in decision-making further aggravates those who have seen liberalisation and globalization deepening the economic divide and enabling covert violations of human rights in the garb of “development.”

  • Allocation of votes: If all stakeholders are indeed involved in the decision-making process, it remains an issue whether each of them should be granted an equal vote. Should private interests be granted the same voting power as the civil society which purports to act in public benefit? Should both of these be granted equal voting power as nation-States, which traditionally have had exclusivity over governance at international settings? These questions remain unresolved.
  • Failure of consensual decision-making: An alternative to policy decision-making by voting in Model III can be policy decision-making by consensus. It is however argued that involvement of all stakeholders with largely polar interests in decision-making will never produce a consensus, and forestall decision-making altogether: The inability of the IGF, an equal footing multi-stakeholder body, to reach agreement on governance issues, which has led to reduced faith and participation in such a model is often cited in this regard. It is argued that in such instances the use of the nation-State as a mediator between these contradictory interests is essential—a suggestion which relegates one back to Model II. However it is important to note that such an argument naively assumes nation-States to be too benign entities with their agenda being public interest exclusively. It cannot be forgotten that many nation-States of the world have not even been born out of democratic processes like universal adult franchise; and even the most liberal of democratic States do enact questionable laws repressive of basic human rights and freedoms.

A subsequent post analyses the last broad model for ICANN governance: the replacement of oversight function by participatory accountability mechanisms.

Governance by Participatory Accountability Mechanisms

In the last few posts, I have analysed the advantages and disadvantages of an intergovernmental model, a hierarchical multi-stakeholder model, and an equal-footing multi-stakeholder model for the management of ICANN. The last post in this series discusses the fourth and last model in this respect- a model which proposes the replacement of ICANN oversight by participatory accountability mechanisms. It is important to note that at present it cannot be said that a parallel enhanced co-operation model has been formally proposed for this model of ICANN accountability. Therefore this model remains specific only to ICANN oversight, and does not by extension cover enhanced co-operation.

Model IV: Replacement of Oversight by Participatory Accountability Mechanisms

Parallel Enhanced Co-operation Model: None

Model IV envisions the complete removal of oversight function over ICANN by making it an independent body. The idea is to make ICANN self-regulating.

There are however, two variants of this model which are suggested in this regard. The first envisions slight modifications to the status quo by persuading the US government to release control over ICANN via the IANA contract and also eliminating the role of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). Moreover, the reviews system under the Affirmation of Commitments (AoCs) needs to be strengthened so that ICANN keeps respecting the basic principles on internet freedom while discharging its technical functions. This proposal supports the usage of the current RIR mechanism for addressing public policy issues in technical governance. RIR refers to a Regional Internet Registry, each of which has its own technical community which considers such issues. The difference here from regular policy-making is that public policy questions would be answered keeping in mind technical feasibility. This is an approach which seems to be working for the past decade, and has led to the conclusion of policies which suit regional concerns specifically. For example in the ARIN region, residential privacy concerns cause that information be redacted from the public WHOIS directory per community developed policy. It can further be noted that good policies tend to get adapted across all RIRs.

The proponents of this first variant of Model IV exist especially within the internet technical community, which argues that the simplest solution to technical governance is to remove governmental interference in ICANN processes by any nation-State anywhere in the world, thus leaving technical governance entirely to the technical community, who are people who understand and can provide solutions for the technical structure of the internet the best. It is thought among this group that the existing internal administrative processes of ICANN are sufficient to ensure good governance

The second variant suggests the removal of oversight function by replacing it with a membership-at-large structure for the ICANN. This would mean that any interested individual from anywhere in the world could apply to be a Board member in the ICANN and participate in the decisions which it makes. It calls for dissolution of the GAC and the participation of nation-State reps via the Supporting Organisations of the ICANN. It further mandates that an international agreement be undertaken whereby nation-States agree not to interfere in the functioning of ICANN or use it for censorship purposes. Though as a negotiating point for nation-States, it proposes that the control of ccTLDs be transferred to the national governments who should be allowed to exercise complete sovereignty over them. In short, this variant seems to propose two parallel running regimes for the internet: one embodying the global internet, another comprising of a bunch of nationally-controlled internets under the ccTLD domains.

The proponents of this second variant are largely skeptical for governmental and bureaucratic forces. At the same time, they are concerned about potential corruption rising within the ICANN due to unregulated market influences and call for reforms within the ICANN administration which would make it directly accountable to people who use the internet all over the world.

Both these variants of Model IV envision governmental involvement as supportive of a shared legal framework which upholds accountability in the ICANN, and provides non-State actors a legal basis for settling important disputes, at the same time leaving larger internet policy questions out of the framework and focusing on only the technical issues.

Thus by limiting itself to technical policy issues is specific to the ICANN oversight problem, Model IV proposal does not extend to the larger internet public policy issues which come up in conjunction with enhanced co-operation. Hence there is no potential overall enhanced co-operation model parallel to it—an issue which Model IV suggests dealing with separately.


To summarise, the following arguments are put forth in favour of Model IV.

  • The Don’t Fix What is Not Broken Argument: This is the other pole to the purely intergovernmental oversight/enhanced co-operation model. The drift is that since the internet functions fine the way it is now without the involvement of governments, especially in the case of technical governance, why change to fix it. The problem with this argument being that it is not exactly true, and is perhaps too US-centric.
  • Hand-in-hand Technical and Policy Decision-making: The close involvement of the internet technical community in the policy-making process in this model would help to bring technical and public policy issues together. The problem with involvement of governments in technical policy-decision making process is that they tend to ignore the technical feasibility of their policy implications. The technical community on its part resents such political interference (that is not always internet-oriented) into technical matters which has the potential to nullify decades of hard work by the community. It is thus argued that removal of any patronizing oversight under Model IV would bring about smooth framing of technical policies by inclusion of the “technical” aspects.
  • Invocation of Participatory Democracy: Proponents of Model IV show little faith in the politics of representative democracy for the securitization of best interests of the citizens. This model therefore, prides itself in establishing a mechanism of participatory democracy via either the RIRs or the ICANN Board memberships-at-large variations, either of which it is believed, will help users of the internet participate directly in internet governance, while keeping in mind regional variations in concerns regarding governance issues.
  • Need for Principles over Redistribution of Power: Another argument which comes to the support of this model is that it intends to provide a set of principles to bring accountability to technical governance, rather than merely using multiple players to diffuse the power of the other. The argument here is that mere induction of a number of nation-States (like in Model I) or additional stakeholders (like in Models II and III) would not be of much consequence to contain unilateral power unless proper mechanisms for accountability are put into place. Rather, the addition of more stakeholders without guiding principles agreed upon by everyone is likely to make things worse for the abuse of power would then be possible by more actors.

  • Best Option in Absence of Globally Agreed Principles: This is a pragmatic argument for the first variation of Model IV.  It entails that in the absence of any globally-acceptable principles of technical governance, this proposal is the most acceptable. The technical community especially feels that without global consensus of principles for technical governance, any talk about changing the existing mechanisms, which seems to be working decently, is an unhelpful approach.


But not everyone agrees with these arguments. The following criticisms are made with regard to Model IV.

  • Influence of jurisdiction of incorporation: The criticism here is that as long as ICANN is a private corporation incorporated in a particular jurisdiction, the laws and the executive policies of that jurisdiction would be enforced against ICANN, thus providing the relevant State a unilateral power to influence ICANN’s technical decisions. A counter-proposal in this regard however suggests that ICANN be protected from such jurisdictional interference via immunities under an international agreement.
  • Inadequacy of an Affirmation of Commitments structure: The AoCs structure particularly does not find much support with developing nations, because it seems to be a unilateral declaration without much force of law in the international scenario. It is demanded that something more than an agreement between the government of a particular country and a private corporation incorporated in that country be sought to protect the interests of internet users worldwide.
  • Excessive power to the technical community: Some of the critics view the present model to be excessively favorable to the internet technical community, which has strong bonds with the private sector in the internet industry. They see the involvement of the technical community in policy decisions as unnecessary and as a leeway for potential abuse by monopolization of such functions.

The four models discussed above present a very broad view of the conflicts present in the entire project of internet governance. There are infinitesimal other details associated with the task of governance which have an impact on how we are able to use the internet, but which could not be presented here in all their detail. As an unprecedented transnational medium of communication, the internet challenges the very idea of modern governance, which is enmeshed in the hierarchical nation-State framework. How we rise to this challenge will be consequential in determining whether a new technology with the potential of completely free flow of information across any boundaries can be preserved, or whether traditional boundaries of regulation succeed in moulding the internet to its form. Or whether in the process, both the technology and our idea of governance will be transformed in ways hitherto unknown.

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