Google is quitting China, whether we like it or not. It was probably not an easy decision to take. In Burma, it is almost illegal to access the net. In North Korea, only lucky few can access. Some countries are filtering Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, or simple blogs. Reporters Without Borders keeps a list of “Internet enemies”. On the contrary, Government 2.0 is taking up. What is happening between Internet and politicians ?
The strength of Internet is « peer to peer »
Looking at the history is important to understand the debates. The Internet must not be understood as a causal process; there never has been an “Internet project”. Internet construction, as well as its governance, is based upon horizontal relationships in peer to peer mode between people exchanging in a perfect symmetrical and reciprocal manner. The very first services of the Internet, in the 70’s, were email and discussion forums, 20 years ahead of the Web.
Since its inception, Internet governance has been based on rough consensus between groups of people, who networked themselves in a non-hierarchical mode. IETF, the organization which defines the technological norms, describes itself as “a loosely self-organized group of people who contribute to the engineering and evolution of Internet technologies”.
This horizontal mode is the power of the Internet today: forums, social networks, blogs, Wikipedia, Youtube, Twitter, are places where people exchange in peer to peer mode. Enterprises are starting to understand the power of the customers talking to each other, and are more and more into viral marketing. Above all, Internet is a community media. But are the politician understanding this ?
Internet governance, and Network neutrality
On-going debate is strong, between the original governance based upon a network of independent organizations, and willingness to centralize governance under United Nations.
Internet governance addresses, amongst all, a very sensitive topic : the DNS, which is the directory allowing people to access a web site. Would the DNS be split in parts, connection to a site would become dependent upon the location of the user, and would lead to a collection of sub-networkst. Globalization would be finished. Since 2006, China already started its own DNS, Russia is threatening to do so, pretext being each time the capacity to write URL in each country character’s set.
Then, a second debate appeared: network neutrality. It started in 2006, when the US telecommunication operators, who understood that they could not increase their access rates, turned towards service providers, and threatened them to introduce class of services, and to ask them premium fees to have priority on their networks. All big players in the Internet field opposed to this, argued that this business model would kill any new comer, and would stop any innovation.
This debate became political, after more and more countries started organizing network filtering. In China, many sites are forbidden, such as facebook, or typepad; skype can be accessed only through a specific Chinese software. Australia started envisaging huge content filtering, but stepped back recently. In France, LOPPSI2 law just passed, whose official goal is to censor pedo-pornographic content, but allows the police to install software on any citize’sn computer and watch his Internet activity.
Another war is starting between traditional media or enterprises, and Internet companies. In Italy, it is now necessary to have a state license to post a video on a web site, the goal being to protect traditional Television companies from Youtube. In France, Hadopi law reinforces traditional traditional copyright laws by cutting the Internet access to people who illegally download music. European Commission plans to force any commerce web site to have a physical shop, the background being a fight between pure players such as ebay or amazon and luxury brands in respect to counterfeiting.
Filtering initiatives such as these are constantly criticized for their inefficiency: routing around them is easy for real criminals, false positive will be numerous. The network, whether it is human or technological, shows a great resistance to stress, thus making any filtering approach costly for a poor result. Moderation is quite efficient in a network, at least as efficient as hierarchical one, but at a lower cost, control structures being lighter. Education remains, in fine, the most efficient way to fight against any criminal activity.
A positive trend is emerging quite recently : national, or local government, are setting up initiatives with the objective to improve relations between administration and citizens, based on the web 2.0 model.
This process is built on three pillars : administration opens its data; then improves its dialogue with citizens who become proactive by using all modern Internet tools; culture and governance of administration shifts towards a cooperative mode.
Australia is the most advance country on this subject. A report has been issued in december 2009, proposition such an action plan. US, Canada, England, are following the same path. The Obama Administration has opened a space where citizens can exchange on the topic of network neutrality. More and more cities are opening their data within the framework of open311 initiative.
Internet as vector of progress
Each politician should understand the fundamental importance of digital society. In order to manage increasing complexity, we must position ourselves in cooperative mode, and the Internet is the main tool to achieve this.
But how can we know if citizens really wish such a model ? The answer is in Internet. As an example, in France, 87.000 teacher of primary school have opened their own forum, and have exchanged 4.4 million messages, helping them to improve their practice. In some enterprises, employees are using social networks to work in a more efficient way.
This is quite encouraging. Would our politicians promote such Government 2.0, and build society around digital age, debates would become more productive, cooperation would take the lead above silos, and citizens would find new enthousiasm for voting.
The Internet favours networked intelligence, and makes the citizens more responsible. The role of a modern state is to create value by improving relations between stakeholders. The observation of fast growing Internet usages show us that citizens are much more ready to this model than that the traditional media will acknowledge.