Digital Single Market
Digital Economy & Society

Google contribution to the Commission consultation on Internet governance


Governance of the Internet 1. Is there a need to move toward one global principle-based framework? At Google, we believe that stakeholders should strive for alignment on a global framework, but that a mandate for a unitary global framework for Internet governance is unnecessary and holds the potential to limit free flow of data and information online. Instead, stakeholders should find ways to experiment with governance policies that allow for alignment to occur on all levels (local, national, and regional), rather than having one centralized international treaty on Internet governance. The need to innovate and simultaneously accommodate pluralism on the Internet demands flexibility in the system. The multistakeholder Internet institutions already in existence have different core functions and strengths. For example, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has a core competency of developing standards, whereas the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a key convening body for broader, wide-ranging policy discussions. We should not attempt to force all Internet policy discussions into one body. Because of the Internet’s multifaceted nature - spanning technical, political, and policy issues - there is no single organization who “manages” or who has “jurisdiction” over Internet governance; instead, the Internet’s policies and protocols have rapidly evolved through a set of diverse organizations. A few such examples include: the IETF, which develops global standards and protocols; the Internet Corporation for the Assignment of Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages the global system for Internet naming, numbering, and addressing; the IGF, which brings together academia, governments, civil society, and industry as a means of fostering the discussion or critical Internet issues; and the Internet Society (ISOC), a technical organization, which seeks to promote the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world. As Internet policy discussions become more global in nature, stakeholders should continue to rely on the existing structures to help us all develop global policies that benefit all users, rather than relying on treaty mechanisms to mandate rules. Although treaties that relate to Internet governance can set norms across international boundaries, treaty-making introduces the risk of enacting rules that increase censorship, and provide more opportunities for centralized control of the Internet. Doing so has great risk of limiting global freedom of expression, the exchange of information and ideas, impeding innovation, and limiting technical resiliency within the overall network. Moreover, the treaty process is fundamentally multilateral: negotiations and decisions take place primarily between government representatives, rather than among all stakeholders. Instead of seeking increase their influence on global Internet policies through treaties, countries should focus on improving the existing institutions, which have effectively governed the Internet and led to the unprecedented growth and innovation so far and instead encourage these organizations to continue to develop and deepen their competencies within their respective domains. 2. Are we on the right track towards a system of governance on an equal footing? The Internet governance model was designed to allow all stakeholders to participate on equal footing. However, as we noted above, we agree the current model needs improvement to ensure that all stakeholders, particularly those from emerging markets, are able to meaningfully participate in the Internet governance process. It is incumbent on participants within the current governance model to bring new stakeholders whose voices may not be effectively heard into the conversation. Additionally, all Internet governance institutions should strive toward improved transparency so that different stakeholders can easily see under both process and outcomes and are able to meaningfully participate in decisionmaking. These efforts must go beyond providing “remote participation” options to stakeholders as a means of increasing regional and local participation. Instead, all institutions charged with some aspect of Internet governance (ITU, IGF, ICANN, W3C) should continue to work on their own open governance mechanisms so that: All stakeholders can access the relevant document databases and review documents at no cost; Participation in board and governance meetings of the organization is open, where possible; and Modes of participation are varied and not exclusively in-person or tied to an invitation from the organization. 3. Does the process of internationalisation of ICANN go far enough? It is clear that in recent months ICANN has made significant strides toward becoming more international, something which we greatly support. The establishment of regional engagement centers in Istanbul, Singapore, and Geneva is a step in the right direction. However, we think still more work needs to be done. Anybody that has spent time looking at ICANN can testify to the fact that the organization is complicated, acronym-ridden, bureaucratic, and difficult to follow. The ICANN Board, ICANN staff, advisory committees, constituency groups, and individual members of the ICANN community all have a responsibility to make ICANN a place where all stakeholders feel welcome as well as feel as though their voices are heard. It remains to be seen whether ICANN can reach out to and include the entire international Internet community in its processes, such that they are seen as the global organization that they must become. 4. How can a move from unilateral to multilateral accountability be realised? We believe that it is important for all Internet governance institutions to be accountable to the Internet community as a whole. While we do not agree that the system is subject to “unilateral accountability” today, neither unilateral nor multilateral accountability is, in and of itself, sufficient. A multistakeholder and inclusive process for both developing policy, standards, and/or principles, as well transparency and accountability for all actors in the space, will be key to ensuring that the global Internet remains a stable, interoperable, open platform for speech, commerce, culture, and innovation. 5. How do you see the role of governments within the GAC? Governments, both through the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and through their individual engagement in ICANN policy discussions more broadly, play an important role within the multistakeholder process. In particular, the ICANN Board should be more responsive to GAC advice, including providing clear and transparent reactions to such advice and increasing dialogue on contentious issues in an effort to reach consensus when possible. That said, all stakeholders, including governments, deserve to have the ability to meaningfully engage in the multistakeholder process, while at the same time not impeding the ability of other stakeholders to also meaningfully engage. As such, allowing governments a veto over ICANN policy decisions would run contrary to the multistakeholder construct. 6. Do such calls (to withdraw inside national Internet borders or diversification of physical infrastructure) pose a risk to the 'One Internet' principle? Yes and no. The withdrawal to national borders is a concern, but “diversification of physical infrastructure” does not necessarily imply the development of national Internets, At Google, we believe that the Internet’s contributions to global economic development and free expression are a direct result of the openness of the platform. A vibrant and unrestricted Internet is a key driver for international trade and domestic economic growth, and critical for in-country businesses and consumers to participate in the global information economy. The principles of openness is the best guarantor of national interest and economic growth. Therefore, national policies or decisions that have the effect of impeding the free flow of information or diminishing interoperability of the Internet threaten both the economic gains that the Internet has enabled as well as the exchange of ideas and information that it has created. For example, in Europe, announcements in France and Germany have been made to create government-subsidized clouds with private partners, and these are being marketed as a way to keep data safe from U.S. surveillance. There are certainly strong privacy protections in Europe and there are also understandable commercial motivations to differentiate offerings in a highly competitive world. However, requiring data localization is not a solution to surveillance concerns, and in fact, localization may compromise the privacy and security of data, and also can harm businesses/innovation. Localization will likely limit redundancy and resiliency of cloud-based services and could limit encryption options as well. It also creates a barrier to entry and barrier to global expansion. Any two-way interaction on the Internet (blogging, email, shopping) is a form of cloud computing. A requirement to do this processing in other countries is a barrier to entry if small companies need to think about deploying globally at the same time that they launch a single web service. The impact on these types of business globally would be acute for users and businesses alike. That being said, diversification of physical infrastructure does not per se pose a problem. Internet users today access content and services from a wide variety of disparate infrastructures (e.g., mobile, Wi-Fi, fiber, and satellite networks). 7. To what extent are the current debates on Internet governance sufficiently focusing on who controls key physical and logical resources (e.g. where does the majority of the traffic go to, who controls major Internet exchange points, how do key standardisation efforts influence the balance of power among stakeholders? We believe this question incorrectly focuses on perceived control over physical and logical resources. Many different stakeholders contribute to the development and management of the network of networks that is the Internet. It is a fundamentally distributed system in which no one stakeholder or stakeholder group controls all of the infrastructure, content, or policy. Therefore, a policy discussion focusing on “who controls” resources cannot lead to productive outcomes. As an example, IXPs are most successful when all stakeholders contribute to their formation, development and maintenance. They allow Internet service providers (ISPs) and other network operators to exchange traffic locally and more cost effectively, which can help lower end-user costs, speed-up transmissions, increase Internet performance, and decrease international Internet connectivity costs. The Internet Society and Internet technical experts have been working for several years to bring IXPs to emerging markets. These efforts have resulted in locally trained experts and facilitated the development of local and regional technical infrastructures. An additional benefit of IXP development is the expansion of community governance models as well as building local Internet expertise. One example of this work can be found in a recent OECD paper entitled “Internet Traffic Exchange: Market Developments and Policy Challenges”, which provides evidence that the existing Internet model works extremely well, has boosted growth and competition and brought prices for data down to 100,000 times less than that of a voice minute. Governments can enable these developments, but they should not be conflated with mandatory data localization policies. 8. How can the risk be limited that separate network infrastructures co-exist or can be isolated from one another, thus undermining the One Internet principle? Governments should employ a light touch approach, allowing the Internet to continue to develop as an open platform enabling permissionless innovation. Governments should support standard-setting processes for the Internet that are open, participatory, and inclusive. The Internet has always been a network of individual networks, each which their own equipment and infrastructure. What has held it together is the ability to communicate universally over the same interoperable and protocol - TCP/IP. Models that attempt to disconnect from the network of networks will surely undermine the existence of the one interoperable, open Internet, but the existence of heterogeneous infrastructure is not per se problematic. The multistakeholder approach 9. Do you think that the current multistakeholder model has enough legitimacy – both regarding process and stakeholders - given the fundamental impact of the Internet on our societies? Yes, but like any democratic process, it still needs a lot of work. As the United Nations Working Group on Internet Governance stated in 2005, multistakeholder Internet governance “is the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.” Because borders are less relevant in the virtual world, the multistakeholder approach provides a way to transcend geographic boundaries of physical space and focus instead on the users of the Internet’s virtual spaces. To be fair, the multistakeholder approach can be frustrating, as can any process that allows to the inclusion of a variety of viewpoints; however, it provides the best mechanism for governing the Internet’s space because of its inclusiveness. Even more important than its inclusiveness---the multistakeholder process has an established track record of success. It’s through the unusual framework of institutions---governmental and nongovernmental---that the Internet has made it to where it is today. The model is not perfect but we believe strongly that it is crucial to work on reform within the institutions that developed the Internet than to start anew. 10. How can capture of the process by vested interests be prevented? Improved transparency and accountability can ensure that Internet governance processes continue to reflect the interests of all stakeholders. Transparency is the backbone of any multistakeholder approach: if all participants do not have access to key information, the process suffers, and the outcomes cannot be considered representative. Please see our response to the following question for specific examples of how to improve transparency and accountability. Additionally, we should remember that Internet governance in the broader sense also includes the enforcement mechanisms of other national agencies. For example, competition and antitrust rules penetrate the fabric of all commercial activities and act as a powerful deterrent for actors on the Internet. Additionally, national and regional regulators oversee the operations of the companies that operate within the rules of their administrative mandates and regularly take actions to make sure that industry is behaving appropriately. When any of these institutions either fail to act or over react, legal redress is available. These mechanisms are all complementary to the existing Internet governance institutions. 11. Where does the model need to be improved? The existing Internet governance institutions should continue to evolve and improve and almost all of them could benefit from increased engagement with those who are not yet a part of the Internet governance discussion. However, we should turn to these organizations and push them to improve their effectiveness in their respective roles rather than creating new overarching treaties or mandates. A few of the top areas for focus include: IETF---capacity building and outreach to the Global South Although the IETF is inclusive of all participants, in practice, it holds its meetings primarily in the United States or Europe. The majority of participants are from these regions as well as the majority of the in person meetings. Recently, the IETF, together with the Internet Society (which provides the corporate personality for the IETF) has taken steps to change this, such as offering fellowships to engineers and policymakers from the developing world as well as rotating their meetings more globally, and we applaud them in this effort but more could be done to help opening this organization up to broader participation. This is an important capacity-building exercise that will need the commitment in Europe by regulators, academics, and individuals to assure that opportunities to engage thought leaders in the Global South. ICANN--reworking the GAC, landing its “internationalisation” correctly In the ICANN context, more can be done to improve the accountability and transparency of the decision-making processes. For example, the GAC has improved transparency in recent years by opening up many of their meetings to all stakeholders. However, most if not all deliberative meetings of the GAC -- including the meetings in which the GAC drafts advice to the ICANN Board -- remain closed to outside observers. Similarly, the formulation of the recent Montevideo statement, which has broader implications on the future of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance, was not well-socialized with community members in advance of its release and yet could have a huge impact on the community’s engagement in ICANN and Internet governance more broadly. . IGF--improvements in the IGF”s governance, funding, and transparency We have a number of suggestions for the IGF’s improvement---and while many of them are structural, we believe that it is crucial to have these conversations in order to make sure that the IGF remains strong, not only to fulfill its current mandate but to become a longer-term fixture in the governance discussion. Specific examples include: Improve institutional continuity (change the 5-year cycle). The IGF is presumed to end every five years unless renewed by the General Assembly, and while this is part of the original WSIS mandate, it does not need to be set in stone for the future. Enable alternative funding platforms. Currently, the only way to fund the IGF is by directly contracting, on paper, with the UN (through DESA). As an institution that embraces the Internet, the IGF would greatly benefit from online mechanisms used everyday for commerce, contracting, and trade. Increase transparency. There are a number of areas where the IGF can improve for this mandate. For example, little is known regarding the IGF’s budget and the rules and regulations that govern it. This information should be easily accessible to the community. Another example includes how MAG members are selected. Although each stakeholder group is responsible for coordinating its MAG applicants, there is not a publicly available overview on how this process works. Finally, we need to increase transparency around the global meeting site selection and the subsequent Host Country Agreement signing process. While the process of site selection is never perfect, there are some straightforward transparency features that could be added to the process, such as: setting public deadlines for countries to apply, and outlining the costs and benefits to a country that hosts and all host-country agreements should be made public. Create a governance board. As the IGF enters maturity, it would benefit greatly from organizational bylaws and clarity on the process by which certain key decisions made by the Secretariat would be reviewed on some level by an independent group. The Internet as a legal space 12. In your view, is the current framework of international law sufficiently suited to the Internet? Yes and no. Yes, there are frameworks in international law that work for the Internet, but at the same time, the current framework of international law is not very well suited for any sector’s global activity. The tensions between domestic rules and international frameworks have been a challenge for global trade for centuries---and it is in a constant state of flux and improvement. For example, consider the rich history and evolution of Admiralty Law and the Law of the Sea for nearly 1,000 years (see: Ordinamenta et consuetudo maris in Italy in 1063). That particular area involves customary law, domestic law, and many multilateral treaties, and is in constant state of change. When looking at the Internet, we should study and learn from other areas like Admiralty Law and the Law of the Sea---legal areas that, like the Internet, deal with trade, commerce, sharing common international resources, and resolving complicated and sometimes incompatible traditions in global culture. We should not assume that the framework of international laws is stable in any single area, and we should embrace change where it can improve the stability, interoperability, and openness of the platform. Rather than looking at the framework of international law as a whole, we think that a few targeted areas of reform should be looked at, such as those described in the next section. 13. Which possible areas for improvement do you see as the most urgent? The most important and urgent improvements to be pursued are: Protecting the tenets of free expression which exist before the Internet (e.g., the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). These rights are equally relevant both online and offline. Improving international assurances for international safe harbors that support an ecosystem for innovation, exchange of information, and freedom of expression online; and Reforming the global intellectual property system so that the exchange of information online balances the need to protect rightsholders while at the same time allowing creativity and innovation to flourish and reforming patent policy to support innovation around the globe. 14. How do you think that discussions and solutions to these challenges should be designed? The Internet policy space requires an inclusive approach in general. Even where decisions lie in the hands of governments, other stakeholders should be involved whenever possible, and be given the opportunity to voice their views and specific perspectives. Moreover, policy issues should be clearly identified and analysed according to their different components, to avoid mixing up issues and to ensure specific elements are handled by the groups that have the right expertise, hence ensuring the multistakeholder process operates in a meaningful way. When looking at the current Internet governance model, it’s important to look at the area that is being affected and then to identify the “layer” within the Internet that this affects. There are many ways to define these layers, but the top three are the infrastructure layer, a logical layer and a content layer. And in parallel, different institutions and stakeholder groups can be associated to the topics handled within these layers. By way of example, the ITU is very well suited to establish non-binding norms in the infrastructure layer; groups like the IETF are best suited for the logical layer and the protocols that keep the Internet active; and for the content layer, the organizations that protect free expression become more relevant, like the Council of Europe and UNESCO. Additionally, the IGF plays a unique role as a guide for where policy issues should be addressed---because the IGF has no decision-making mandate in itself it can uniquely act as a facilitator and moderator of some of the key policy discussions that will then be taken forward elsewhere. One could hence argue that the IGF addresses the need for a fourth layer, namely a social layer aiming to deal with practices that define paramount rights and principles associated with “social conduct” online. In the end, the multistakeholder approach is one way to put into focus another one of David Clark’s famous observations, that “functions that are within a tussle space should be logically separated from functions outside of that space, even if there is no compelling technical reason to do so. Doing this allows a tussle to be played out with minimal distortion of other aspects of the system’s function.” In other words, we should endeavor to separate policy issues for analysis as we would any experiment in the technical or scientific sense. This is why it’s important for all the stakeholders to have equal voices, because these stakeholders each present unique perspectives on important topics like privacy and security, surveillance, copyright, and the like. For more info please contact

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Group managers
Cristina MARTINEZ GONZALEZ European Commission DG CONNECT/02 Head of Sector 'Integration of Regulation, Policy and Research"
Vessela KARLOUKOVSKA European Commission, DG CONNECT Stakeholders Unit Policy officer
Prabhat AGARWAL European Commission DG CONNECT Policy Officer
Group Participants