Internet Governance

From ITfC Annual Report 2014-15

A characteristic of IT for Change, unusual in the research sector, is its ability to analyse and engage with both local grass-roots development issues and high level policy, regional, national and international. Being able to span that distance is absolutely essential to an understanding of and being effective within the internet governance environment. It is central to being able to link social justice issues with internet governance structures; and to introduce an element of genuine democracy into the internet governance domain. This is what makes IT for Change an effective player, but one that never loses sight of the fact that the internet in the end must work for people, especially those already marginalised, and in the wider public interest. This is too often lost by those, even NGOs, active in internet governance debates.

-Sean O Siochru, Nexus Research & Long-standing Communications Rights Activist


This reporting year, 2014-15, further underlined the importance of governance of the Internet through a continued proliferation and expansion of Internet related groups in developing countries. Internet governance is now firmly becoming a significant area of advocacy and has begun to be seen as an important and relatively distinct area also by policy makers. However, such increase in the number of advocacy groups and efforts has unfortunately not resulted in expansion of the space to include social, economic and cultural rights. Most of it still remains narrowly focused on two issues of 'Internet Freedom' and privacy. And it closely follows the paradigm defined in the North, largely under the influence of techno-liberals of the silicon valley, which seems in many if not most aspects to have built an easy relationship with the neo-liberals in this area. At least the differences if any are not conspicuous and hardly ever stressed upon. For instance, one would not see much difference between the strategy adopted by the US government, by far the most dominant power in the Internet space, towards the plus ten review of the World Summit on the Information Society and that of most of these groups, including suggested text for the outcome document. In any other sector of global governance, this would be considered rather surprising. There simply has been no discourse anchored in the differential interests of developing countries, and their preponderant marginalized groups. It is under such circumstances that we mentioned in our last year's report the birth of the Just Net Coalition(JNC). 2014-15 was a year of rapid growth for the Coalition to becoming a well-recognized voice globally, with its unique contributions to all key global Internet governance processes. Towards the end of the reporting year, we successfully took the Coalition's mission to the World Social Forum, launching along with some other groups a process towards holding an Internet Social Forum.

At India level, beyond the civil society groups towing a rather lopsided liberal line, over this year we have found strong streaks developing of a new thinking, and advocacy configuration, whose focus is on a kind of 'Indian exceptionalism'. It advices eschewing efforts at India building and leading developing country positions in this area, or even a close association with the IBSA or BRICS groups. The accent here is to seek special privileges largely from the US, since this is a highly US dominated space, on an exceptional basis through bilateral bargaining. The Indian government too currently seems to be inclined towards this direction. The reason for this is that global Internet governance is still being largely seen from a security standpoint and not with regard to economic and social possibilities and concerns. As the latter strongly impose themselves in the coming years, which is certain to happen as the twin economic/ social points of leverage and control - 'inter-connections systems' and data - become too conspicuous to be ignored, India is then expected to rethink its strategy and align its global Internet governance positions more in the directions of its current geo-economic alignments, that brings it closer to its traditional developing country allies, the BRICS and IBSA groups in particular. Meanwhile, IT for Change's has kept up its work and maintaining of close connections in these key geo-configurations, with an accent on social and economic aspects of global Internet governance.

At a critical time in history when the powerful, enabling Internet technology is severely threatened, risking death of the promise of a trully equitable, fair and prosperous global order, it's heartening to witness the great work being championed by ITfC. At the vanguard of securing the Internet from privatisation extremism, ITfC has excelled in leading JNC - a group of unrelenting Internet Freedom Fighters, resolute on ensuring that the Internet remains free and open to all the people around the world. Sincere gratitude for their stellar work and hearty encouragement for the tough work ahead. Appreciation to everyone helping them, and all of us, on the discourse.

-Alex Gakuru, Executive Director - Content Development & Intellectual Property (CODE-IP) Trust, Nairobi, Kenya

On domestic issues, towards the fag end of the reporting year, due to some overreach by a few telecom companies, and Facebook's launch of its program in India, an avalanche of pro net neutrality activism was witnessed in India. This is the first time that an Internet governance issue entered the general public sphere in India, and in quite a grand manner, with film stars and mainstream politicians affirming their support for the cause, and more than a million emails got sent to the regulator in support of net neutrality. IT for Change played an important role in this discussion to nuance it to social, political and economic contexts of India.

Just Net Coalition's quick ascendance

We described in the last report how after its formation in February 2014, JNC was already a key civil society voice at the key NetMudial Meeting on global Internet Governance held in April 2014. It was the the only major group that while noting some of its good points rejected the NetMundial outcome document both on its substance and the process. It saw the whole exercise as an effort of a group that dominated technical governance of the Internet, in close alliance with the US government, to begin shaping a formal regime in the general public policy space as well. As we will see later in this report, subsequent development clearly proved our anticipation right.

Meanwhile, throughout the reported year, JNC made submissions in all key areas of global governance. JNC was the one of only two civil society groups to make a full statement on Internet governance to the BRICS summit that was held in Fortaleza, Brazil, in, July 2014. The statement described the emerging global Internet scenario from a geo-economic and geo-political standpoint, and urged the BRICS countries to take leadership in providing an alternative paradigm of a more equitable Internet, which treats it as a 'global commons' and through 'development of new open Internet platforms and tools including in the areas like search, operating systems, data storage and cloud services …'. JNC's contribution got considerable publicity on the Internet media.

From mobilising thousands to protect and defend the Open Internet for all, to bringing social justice and women rights to the core of its agenda, IT for Change is the public interest voice, translating solid principles into actions to improve access, equality and rights for all Indians, especially those who needed it the most. At Web We Want we work closely with them and consider the organisation a regional and global south leaders and we learn from them every day.

-Renata Avila, Global Campaign Lead, Web We Want

Another very significant engagement that JNC did was with the “Connecting the Dots” conference of UNESCO, which was organized in the run up to the plus ten review of the World Summit on the Information Society. One member of IT for Change and two other members of JNC attended the conference. The development of the outcome document of this key conference showed eloquently how, even within the traditional UN bodies, global Internet governance processes were being increasingly captured by the status quoists, which could now be seen as a rather tightly knit group of big business, technical community and some civil society groups, working in close collaboration with the US government, and its close government allies. Nothing can be better testimony of this creeping capture than the fact that despite JNC's repeated insistence at the stage of 'multistakeholder' development of the outcome document, reference to indivisibility of rights and inclusion of social and economic rights (to the existing mention of civil and political rights) and the addition of the term 'democratic' to the call for multistakeholder governance of the Internet was not agreed to. One civil society member argued that the term 'democratic' 'carried baggage', a viewpoint that was immediately agreed to by the US and one of its close European allies. The [File: final document] was adopted without these requested additions. JNC issued a statement distancing itself from the outcome document, and expressing dismay on the exclusion of the mentioned terms. It is telling how even in an otherwise rather progressive agency like the UNESCO Internet governance is able to bring in such bad anti-democratic and anti-progressive influences.

During the year, JNC also issued statements on many other areas like the International Telecommunication Union's Plenipotentiary Conference, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) oversight transition, UN Human Rights Council report on privacy and the Italian Draft Declaration of Internet Rights.

JNC members also coordinated and contributed to two special journal issues that were brought out on the Internet theme. One was the issue of the journal 'Resurgence' of the Third World Network with an issue titled 'Democratising Global Internet Governance: Issues and Challenges'. IT for Change wrote on “Global Internet governance: A developing country perspective” in this issue. The second was brought out by the JNC member La Agencia Latinoamericana de Informacio (ALAI), titled 'Is Another Internet Possible', and made available in Spanish, English and Portuguese. It for Change contributed an article on net neutrality to this issue.

Just Net Coalition also made its attendance felt at the 2014 Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul, Turkey. Here it put up a booth with its various publications and copies of statements.

Over the year, JNC set up a steering committee and runs a members elist and an open forum for e-discussions on Internet governance issues, the JNC Forum. Considerable interest has been seen in subscribing to the JNC Forum and the discussions have been quite lively and informative. IT for Change currently holds the secretariat of the JNC.

Towards an Internet Social Forum

Internet Social Forum posters at the World Social Forum, Tunis

Perhaps the most important and lasting engagement of JNC was with what emerged over 2014-15 as the key global political process concerning Internet governance (IG), the follow up to NetMundial meeting earlier in the year in Brazil. In a direct effort to anticipate and provide an alternative to a possible UN based Internet related global policy process or forum, the status quoist drivers of the NetMundial meeting tried to institutionalize a big business dominated global Internet policy forum. This was helped considerably by the surprising pusillanimous-ness of the Brazilian government, which hitherto had been a great champion for seeking structural changes to the global IG regime. The first effort in this direction in August, 2014, involved World Economic Forum and ICANN. While, surprisingly and rather unfortunately, a rather large section of civil society agreed to get associated with this initiative, centred on the World Economic Forum (WEF), the technical community was quite divided, and so were the business groups (quite likely due to some kind of rivalry between the International Chambers of Commerce, which has been the main formation associating with Internet governance issues, and the new claimant, the WEF). JNC was the most prominent civil society group that lambasted the new initiative, being called the NetMundial Initiative, as the first step to neoliberalize global governance, beginning first with the Internet governance space. It was quite unacceptable that the WEF, that club of the elite of the world, could be proposed as the seat of a new system of governance of the Internet, even though all the typical neoliberalese was employed in promoting the initiative; providing 'solutions' to policy issues, voluntary adoption, multistakeholder participation, and so on.

Later, to soften the opposition, the NetMundial Initiative co-opted the agency engaged with technical governance of the Internet in Brazil, and also invested in further patronage of the Brazilian government. JNC emerged as a key voice of opposition to this initiative, which was noted in many media articles and publications. The initial proposal was to hold the first meeting of the NetMundial Initiative at the WEF's annual meeting in Davos in January, 2015. It was the pressure mounted against the initiative, especially its centredness on the WEF, which resulted in the launch of the initiative being postponed beyond the Davos meeting. Meanwhile, very much as the World Social Forum was announced in opposition to the WEF, JNC took the opportunity to give a call to hold an Internet Social Forum, arising out of an opposition to the WEF centred NetMundial Initiative.
ISF Workshop
The call to hold an Internet Social Forum was supported by 30 organizations from across the world. The response was overwhelming and most non-IG civil society actors could scarcely believe that such fundamental damage was being done to democracy with support of a very large number of civil society actors in the Internet governance space.

JNC in collaboration with numerous other organizations registered to do a workshop,"Organising an Internet Social Forum – A call to occupy the Internet' at the World Social Forum”, in Tunis, in March 2015. The workshop received a very enthusiastic response, and it adopted a Tunis Call for a People's Internet . Organizers of the Internet Social Forum also attended the WSF Assembly against Transnational Corporations and WSF Assembly on Free Media where we presented the proposal for an Internet Social Forum and enlisted support and collaborators.

The activities around the proposed Internet Social Forum attracted considerable interest in the media, including the Indian media.

Other International Engagements

A member of IT for Change attended the Plenipotentiary Meeting of International telecommunication Union (ITU) held in Busan, South Korea, in November 2014, as a civil society member of the official Indian delegation. In the build up to the ITU meeting there was huge amount of usual scare-mongering by what in shorthand can be called as the Internet-liberal brigade, backed by the US, of how ITU was such a dangerous entity and a threat to the current IG order. To confront this negative build up, IT for Change participated in developing the JNC statement “Governing the Global Internet – Is the Status Quo the Only Option” . Complement this statement, JNC also came up with a full list of positive agenda issues that the conference was recommended to take up in order to uphold global public interest. It specifically asked the conference to initiate a process towards a global treaty on cyber-security and cyber-peace, and for it to endorse the report of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the protection and promotion of the right to privacy. It further called for all countries to accede to the International Telecommunications Regulations, 2012. As a part of JNC, IT for Change also participated in a civil society initiative seeking opening up of ITU documents to the public. A short report on the participation of IT for Change in the conference can be found here.

Post JNC's statement to the BRICS summit of 2014, and in line with our earlier work on strengthening the India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA) group in the IG arena, IT for Change took the initiative to help organise a BRICS session at the Russia Internet Governance Forum held in Moscow in April 2015. At the Forum, at the BRICS session, IT for Change presented a proposal for BRICS to take up a stronger role in global IG, and to treat this area as primarily socio-economic, in a similar way as areas like trade, finance and intellectual property are treated, where often BRICS countries find themselves to be natural partners. We called for BRICS to develop a formal framework of cooperation on digital economy and to set up a BRICS research centre in this regard. This proposal, along with its justification for India's point of view, was also expressed in an op-ed in newspaper The Hindu, titled 'Who rules the cyberspace?'.

IT for Change participated in the annual session of The UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), in Geneva, in May 2015. It was supposed to be an important event because the commission has been in charge of follow up to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the WSIS + 10 review process is to take place in 2015. However it turned out to be a rather lackadaisical affair, with no political will or ambition on any side, not even among the developing countries. The latter partly still do not understand the socio-economic significance of this area and also some of its leading members seem more interested in bilateral engagements with the US at the expense of multilateral ones.
Geneva Internet Conference
IT for Change made a statement to the plenary asking for the commission members to be bold and ambitious and meet the call of their duty at this formative time of the global information society. During the negotiations, we also pushed for adoption of the CSTD secretariat report on 'enhanced cooperation', which built on the work of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation, to be accepted as an official document to be fed into the WSIS + 10 process. This unfortunately did not happen. This has left the WSIS + 10 process lame, with no starting point other than empty generalities.

One member of IT for Change attended the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, in September 2014. We were one of the five reviewers of the CSTD secretariat's report on 'enhanced cooperation' and attended a face to face meeting of the reviewers with the secretariat team at the IGF. We also helped organize a JNC workshop on Social and economic justice issues in global IG, also participating as a panelists. We were invited as a panelist in another workshop held by Diplo Foundation. We also made interventions in the plenary session on net neutrality. We are a founding member of the Global Net Neutrality Coalition, which first met at the Istanbul IGF. Later we worked closely with the group to hammer out a definition of net neutrality, where we got included elements of equality of treatment, and in the explanatory text, the key issue of social, economic, political and cultural opportunity that the Internet provides. We also got this definition translated in Hindi. IT for Change is also a very active member of the IGF's Dynamic Coalition on Net Neutrality, and has been perhaps the most active contributor to its deliberations and texts from among developing countries.

IT for Change was invited to be a part of the first Geneva Internet Conference held by Diplo Foundation. We were part of a panel on 'How do actors cope with Internet governance complexity?' which had among others Robert Kahn, co-inventor of the basic Internet protocols, and Malta's Minister for Social Dialogue. We presented where in our view different actors stood on the global IG stage, and also entered into a discussion with the co-panelist, Richard Samas, Managing Director of WEF, on how the NetMundial Initiative was anti-democratic.

It must be noted with due prominence that IT for Change was able to do the bulk of the described work because of the generous support of the National Internet Exchange of India which funded the project “A Development Agenda for Internet Governance: Advocating and Shaping Global and National Policy Options for India” which ended in the reported year.

Internet Governance in India

IT for Change has consistently played a role in disseminating information about the socio-political consequences of use of technology in governance. I find that IT for Change serves as an important platform to unpack perceptions about the alleged neutrality of technology in developmental efforts by bringing together a diverse set of stakeholders from CSOs, Government, academic institutions and software professionals thereby nurturing informed discussion on the topic.

-Rakshita Swamy, Mazdoor Kissan Shakti Sangathan

With support from University of Pennsylvania 's 'Internet Observatory Project', IT for Change undertook a survey of around 25 key respondents engaged in Internet governance or otherwise typical Internet users. From this we wrote an impressionist commentary on how people in India feel about Internet and Internet policies and how these sentiments have begun to connect to the formative Internet governance scene in India. We also did a paper on how Internet governance has evolved in India, and which directions is it headed, closing it with some recommendations for constructing an appropriate Internet regime in India.

IT for Change attended the annual CyFy event organized in October 2014 by Observer Research Foundation, as its knowledge partner, and participated as a panelist in the session on “Deconstructing Multistakeholderism”. The intervention at the panel was later expanded into an article which was carried in a journal issue brought out jointly by Global Policy Journal and ORF, Digital Debates. Our article was titled “A Fork in the Road to the Future of Global Internet Governance: Examining the Making and Implications of the NetMundial Initiative”.

We attended two India level workshops on ICANN oversight transition, one organized by the Centre for Communication Governance, National Law University, Delhi, and the second by the Cyber Cafe Association of India. The later was co-sponsored by IT for Change. At both the meetings, we highlighted the issue of international jurisdiction and external accountability as the key ones for the transition process.

Our most important engagements with domestic Internet governance issues came out of our involvement with the Local Action to Secure Internet Rights (LASIR) project of the Association for Progressive Communication. We attended the LASIR inception meeting in Cebu, Philippines, in January, 2015. We chose to focus on two issues in the Indian context, net neutrality and community broadband, and also explore the possibility of an advocacy front for some kind of a Bill of Internet Rights and Principles for India.

On net neutrality in India

In this background of our choice of key domestic issues, it was entirely fortuitous that due to some overreach by a few telecommunication companies, and the launch of the platform by Facebook, both acts being in violation of the principle of net neutrality, the net neutrality advocacy scene suddenly exploded in India. Meanwhile, in March, 2015 the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released a consultation paper on the regulatory framework of Over-The-Top services (OTT), which also addressed the net neutrality issue. The manner in which the consultation paper was written appeared to most to be veering towards compromising on net neutrality. Members of civil society successfully created popular campaigns, like which resulted in over a million pro- net neutrality emails being sent to the TRAI, most of them using the template prepared by the Save the Internet campaign. IT for Change participated in workshops conducted by these campaign groups. However, it took issue with the message given in the template email that the Internet requires no regulation, now or in the future, which we took to be an extreme and untenable liberal line.

IT for Change Workshop on Regulating the Internet in Public Interest
IT for Change held a workshop on 'Regulating the Internet in public interest - Net neutrality and other issues', in New Delhi, May 2015, deliberately stressing the point that net neutrality was but a form of regulation of the Internet, and as likely other forms of regulation may be needed. We invited a lot of participants from 'traditional' or non-Internet-related civil society, like media, right to information and community development groups, who had begun to get interested in Internet policy issues, especially net neutrality. The workshop helped us evolve a more nuanced view of net neutrality that saw the issue through a public interest lens rather than as a techno-centric fetishism. Further stressing this point, and claiming the socio-political basis of net neutrality, we wrote an article in the Political and Economic Weekly,'Net Neutrality is Basically Internet Egalitarianism'.

We made a detailed response to the consultation paperof the regulator, and when all responses were up on their website, took the opportunity for a counter response to make a further submission. We also had a face to face meeting with the committee of the department of telecommunication which was asked by the government to come up with its recommendations on net neutrality. This was followed by a written submission to the committee. The key points of our submission were as follows. Net neutrality is an extremely important 'equality of opportunity' principle, and must be enforced fully. Larger social considerations in this regard should take precedence over calculations about telco's business models. Zero rating is a particularly problematic form of net neutrality violation, even more so for developing countries, and must be banned. Meanwhile, if law and policy ordains some kind of essential services, like public and emergency services, to be provided free of cost, this kind of positive discrimination does not go against net neutrality or banning zero rating. This is a rather different kind of a case, and in our view would almost certainly be required to be pursued in conditions like that if India. As with net neutrality in the infrastructural layer, other forms of regulation may also be required in other layers, which is a matter to be considered separately. However, we are quite against any kind of licensing of Internet services, applications or content.

The governmental committee on net neutrality has submitted its recommendations, which are quite good except for its prevarication on the issue of zero rating. The report takes very good note of our submissions, including on the issue of positive discrimination and need for regulating the Internet in other layers as well, for instance, search neutrality.