Although the Internet is a virtual space, Internet governance is a term used to embody the different policies and mechanisms proposed by shareholders in order to help develop and shape the Internet community, similar to a real-life government.
How does it work
It is considered to be not a product, but the result of a decentralized “bottom-up” type of structure comprising many entities from around the world.
The shareholders include network and server operators, domain name registrars and registries, IP address and standards organizations, internet service providers, individual users.
National governments intervene in the context of setting up policies which apply within their state borders, such as laws related to protecting copyright and intellectual property, certain censorship or prohibitions.
Internet governance models
The international model
In this approach, the main shareholders are representatives of private businesses, non-governmental organizations or users, comprising the “civil society”.
The advantages of this model are:
It allows a limited number of experts to focus on strictly the technical issues, with the possibility to take consensual decisions.
It provides flexibility and operability, as the response is faster in this small community model.
It lacks a political factor, instead focusing on operational issues.
The drawbacks of this approach are:
They would need the legitimacy given by a political structure or national government;
Difficulty in implementing their solutions without a set structure.
The intergovernmental model
It is focused on bringing together governmental shareholders who have the interest to take collective decisions in the Internet space that would apply in the future to all actors involved.
The main advantages of this approach are:
Introducing a “top-bottom” model which allows decision-making at the top and thus taking a structured and collective responsibility.
Easier implementation as it overlaps existing governments which already have an enforcement structure in place.
Providing legitimacy to decisions taken in this environment.
The main drawbacks of this model are:
Risk of slowing down or “politicizing” technical issues that could be solved by a group of specialists;
The lack of specialization of civil servants who would draw laws in the field.
Risk of overlapping and lack of accountability as far as the governments work separately and not together.
Dependence on a structure: at present, the Internet registration and address system is based on the Root system, which is under the control of the US Department of Commerce as ICANN is under the control of the USA.
Although neither model is perfect, in practical terms, Internet governance needs both specialization and a common political structure.