The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) has just released its briefing book on Internet governance and Internet-related policy, entitled: “Finding Common Ground: Challenges and Opportunities in Internet Governance and Internet-Related Policy.” This book was developed in the winter of 2013 to inform the work of the Global Commission on Internet Governance (GCIG), which was launched in January 2014. Information on the GCIG can be found at the Commission’s website, ourinternet.org. Internet governance is a fast-moving and innovative space, where timely contributions are quickly made passé. Nevertheless, I want to provide a few reasons why CIGI’s Internet governance briefing book remains a valuable resource for those who want to come to grips with many of the current Internet governance and Internet-related policy debates.
Internet governance, broadly speaking, examines issues of technical governance and coordination that ensure the stability and end-to-end accessibility of the Internet. It is a technically complex field dominated by debates about power and control, human rights and international security. These debates involve a diverse number of actors from governments who create laws and regulations, to private industry actors who set standards and best practices, to technocrats and engineers who ensure the Internet’s functionality. The briefing book breaks down technically complex topics to help the reader better understand the issues and actors involved and what is at stake more broadly in Internet governance.
The briefing book is organized into four thematic areas: Managing Systemic Risk, Preserving Innovation, Ensuring Rights Online, and the Current Internet Governance Ecosystem. Within these four overarching areas are dozens of specific topics on Internet governance, such as the debate on state surveillance, the new role of Cloud computing, open standards, the Domain Name System, IP address allocation, the economics of interconnection and state censorship. There are also a number of sections on Internet-related policy issues that arise from how the Internet is accessed and used. These issues include topics on the digital divide, protecting vulnerable populations online, and gender and access. Each topic is divided into an initial background section and followed by a summary of contemporary issues. No one book could possibly cover every topic in Internet governance. However, as a primer for anyone just starting to consider issues to do with Internet governance, or even as a supplemental resource for those already well-steeped in the subject matter, the briefing book provides a good first cut at the relevant debates in the broader field.
Internet governance, like most fields in the social sciences, is a complex environment that is highly interconnected. A fuller understanding of the contours and points of interconnection in the Internet governance ecosystem is useful because it allows researchers, NGO activists and policymakers to see how their work on a particular Internet governance problem might be affected by events that transpire in other areas.
The final valuable contribution of the briefing book is a list of suggested readings that can help people expand their understanding of particular issues. This final contribution should not be undervalued. As anyone who has undertaken research in a new subject area knows, finding some of the ‘right’ works that are considered foundational in the field is a time-consuming challenge. The suggestions for further reading do just that. They point the reader toward additional material that can expand their understanding of the complex realm of Internet governance.
Overall, the briefing book is a timely resource that provides a common baseline understanding of the contours of Internet governance and Internet-related policy.