At the second preparatory meeting of the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) last month in Geneva, China's Ambassador to the United Nations Sha Zukang lectured about the "monopolization" of the Internet by a certain un-named country and the need for a international regulatory regime that will be "more conducive to the continuous technological innovation." He went on to speak about the pressing need to establish a multilateral governance mechanism that will impose stability and ensure Internet access for all.
Those of you who are at least vaguely familiar with China's intellectual property regime and its Mother-of-all-Firewalls may now pick your jaws up off the floor. The irony is tempered, however, by the fact that Mr. Zukang's sentiments are echoed by many in the international community who perceive the need for global governance of the Internet and its content.
In preparing for the major WSIS November Summit in Tunisia (a country with its own censorship problems), the question of Internet governance was deemed too complex to resolve in detail and so a Working Group was created to do further investigation. Its focus is to create a working definition of Internet governance, identify the public policy issues and develop a common understanding of the respective roles and responsibilities of governments, existing international organizations, the private sector and civil society.
It will be interesting to see what kind of proposals come out of the WSIS process but after reading through the Declaration of Principles, I am a bit skeptical about the weight it seems to place on the function of governance over the function of market forces (which receive almost no mention) to drive communications innovation and infrastructure. Consider point 20:
Governments, as well as private sector, civil society and the United Nations and other international organizations have an important role and responsibility in the development of the Information Society and, as appropriate, in decision-making processes.
Here, the U.N. not only considers itself a significant player in the communications industry, but puts itself on the same level of importance with the private sector! This dogmatic faith in government institutions (national and international) permeates throughout the document.
I would like to hope that Mr. Zukang's speech was met with audible laughter from the audience, but I'm afraid the delegates in Geneva might have given him a standing ovation.