The Business of Internet Governance

After concluding my third day at the Telecommunication Policy Research Conference on communication, information, and Internet policy, I’m left with one burning question:  

if not bureaucrats, then who exactly should be writing the standards and policies of the Internet?

 In each session I attended, there were many strong and diverse opinions about the lack of success in conceptualizing, defining, and regulating aspects of the Internet. However, there was no strong consensus about how the Internet should actually be governed, or if it should be governed at all!

In my second session of conference day one, an impassioned comment from the crowd about policy-makers’ damaging role in Internet governance, fueled by their inability to understand the technical infrastructure, sparked a heated discussion. A high-ranking government official--who stated that his opinions were of his own accord and not on behalf of the U.S. Government-- blatantly said that engineers should be writing policies concerning the Internet not lawyers. This statement took me by surprise, not only because bureaucrats don’t usually admit fallibility, but because this misses the crucial point of the entire governance debate--who actually has the power to govern the Internet?

I can tell you with certainty, it’s not an amorphous group of engineers.

 Engineers, such as computer scientists, may have a more intimate understanding of the mathematical aspects of Internet technology. However, they may lack knowledge concerning societal impacts and variables such as socioeconomic attributes, infrastructure, individual use and adoption, or community impact, all details not included in their codes and algorithms. Nevertheless, these engineers are employed by monopolistic corporations like Google, monolithic governments, and international institutions like the IETF. These are the entities with the real power in the Internet governance game.

It is like Mason Craig, a Principal Technical Architect at AT&T said,  “Internet governance is going to mirror the way the non-Internet world works.   It is the businesses, governments, and militaries that rule the non-internet world, human rights are there, people who talk freedom are there, but those conversations don’t dominate. Businesses, governments, and militaries dominate, mainly because there’s nothing to stop them; 1: money talks, and 2: governments and militaries have the power to take control.”
 At first Craig’s poignant remarks frightened me, I thought they diminished the power of the Internet--a medium for the people--but after careful consideration I realized he was right! “The concept of the Internet being a free medium is a false concept, it’s not really free, and it’s going to get less free, it’s becoming more business and politically managed--and that’s why you’ve got the lawyers all over it”. Craig unveiled a key point, which is often overlooked in the Internet governance debate; like in our own complex bureaucratic world, the control comes from above, and the Internet unfortunately exists as a microcosm of our world--heavily micro-managed and regulated by not only capital and power, but the entities that hold both these resources in spades.

 So, it’s safe to say engineers are involved in the process, and are in fact key players in shaping the Internet, but hoping for the disappearance of lawyers? Not a chance, “whenever there’s business, there’s lawyers, you’ll never get the lawyers out of the equation”.


Jonny's GENIUS presidential basketball roster

the best Facebook post I've ever gotten in my life, from one of the coolest guys i know... monsieur jonny heb.

So our conversation about Jeremy Lin and Barack Obama playing basketball got me thinking... how would you assemble an NBA team drawing only from a pool of US presidents? Well... I had some downtime at work and this is what I came up with:

Starting Lineup

Washington, PG
T. Roosevelt, SG
Reagan, SF
Lincoln, PF
Taft, C


Obama, PG
Eisenhower, SG/SF
Ford, SF/PF
Jackson, PF/C

Starting Lineup

George Washington, Point Guard
Every team needs a field-general, and as father of our country (and, you know, an actual field general), Washington is the perfect man to lead the team. First in war, first in peace, and first on the roster.

Weakness: Truthfully confesses every foul to the ref.

Teddy Roosevelt, Shooting Guard
An avid hunter, so we know he’s a reliable and accurate shooter. Can hit a 5-point shot (on deer only).

Weakness: None.

Ronald Reagan, Small Forward
Teams nowadays need an athletic wing-man who can drive to the basket. If Reagan is even half as good at slashing defenses as he was at slashing taxes, he’s got a spot on the team.

Weakness: Dementia makes remembering plays a challenge.

Abraham Lincoln, Power Forward
Possesses good height, as well as a bit of gracefulness. Probably has a veritable array of mid and low post moves, including a sweet hook shot. Dangerous offensive threat who can use his quickness to beat bigger guys, and his height to tower over the smaller guys. Serious mismatch.

Weakness: Needs to learn to keep his head on a swivel.

William Howard Taft, Center
The team is kind of small right now, and it really needs some beefcake to contend with more physical teams. Taft is a little short, but he can use his big body to wear other teams down. Kind of a Charles Barkley type of player.

Weakness: Easily distracted by the smell of arena hot-dogs and nachos.


Barack Obama, Point Guard
To have a good team, you need a good point guard who can pick out good passes, and distribute the ball to his teammates. While campaigning in 2008, Obama professed that he wanted to “spread it around a bit,” which some interpreted as a socialist plot, but I view as a willingness to pass the ball and get everyone involved on offense. Should lead the team in assists.

Weakness: Too worried about impressing fans... needs to go out there and just play his game.

Eisenhower, Shooting Guard
An all around defensive specialist, who can be expected to shut down opponents the way he shut down the German war machine in WW2. Defends the perimeter like he defended civil liberties in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Weakness: The military-industrial complex.

Gerald Ford, Small Forward/Power Forward
Kind of a utility man. Not really terrible at any thing, but not really good either. A former Division football player, Ford is picked mostly for his athleticism and his genuine team-spirit. Every team needs a good locker-room guy like this.

Weakness: “Jerry Ford is so dumb he can’t (play basketball) and chew gum at the same time.”

Andrew Jackson, Power Forward/Center
Adds some more height and strength to the team. Has a nasty streak; he is willing to go out and goon it up if need be, hacking opposing big men and spending fouls. Seriously, a real bastard.

Weakness: Not a team player.

Just missed the cut

John F. Kennedy
NBA great Wilt Chamberlain claimed to have slept with over 10,000 women. Over/under on JFK?
Weakness: Can’t win in Dallas.

George W. Bush
Miraculously won a second term, even after a disastrous first four years, so we know he’s good at rebounding.
Weakness: Low basketball IQ. Low everything IQ, actually.

James A. Garfield
Has some height (6’0”). Not afraid to take a shot.
Weakness: Not afraid to take a shot.

Not invited to tryouts

James Madison