The Internet: a case of founders keepers? ... one Indian perspective
The Internet: a case of `founders keepers?
14 November 2005
THE WORD "cyber space" was coined long before the Internet was born. In
fact it is the creation of American novelist William Gibson who used it
in his novel Neuromancer a good ten years before the World Wide Web
gradually became a reality.
At the turn of the century, Gibson, asked to comment on the shape taken
by his unintended brainchild said perceptively: "The Internet is extra
national and post geographical. It is happening largely outside the
jurisdiction of politicians. It is truly one of the strangest things we
have done as a species. and we have done it inadvertently. If we take
care of it, it may be a step towards a better world." His instinct was
right in one important aspect: the relative freedom from political
control that Internet enjoyed.
Indeed its origins lay in a network called DARPANet, a creation of the
U.S. government's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was
initially handed over to a consortium of American academic institutions,
then grew and grew... to become today's Internet.
By late 1980s the number of Internet users — and hence addresses —
became unmanageable without some regulation. The U.S. Department of
Commerce and the Post and Telecommunications Department established the
Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which in 1998 became the
Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a private
corporation that includes a number of stakeholders.
In recent years, the ICANN has been criticised for being dominated by
corporate interests in the developed world, who had cornered the
majority of available addresses. This is one of the reasons, nations
like India have been early supporters of IPv6 (Internet Protocol
version six) the next Net avatar which will increase the size of the
address (which translate into the somethingdotcom or someonedotnet
name) from 32 bits (which can give at most 4.2 billion different
addresses) to 128 bits that will boost the possible addresses to almost
infinity. India has also staked its national claim to an Internet
identity with its own ".in" suffix earlier this year.
But many developing nations have been uncomfortable with the implicit
control that the ICANN, a U.S. creation, exerts on the Internet and have
been advocating a monitoring role for a truly international agency —
possibly a U.N. arm like the International Telecommunication Union.
This was mooted at the first World Summit of the Information Society in
Geneva, 2003, but was rather unceremoniously swept aside. It will again
loom at Tunis this week as the single biggest issue on the agenda when
the second WSIS opens on November 16.
Preliminary meetings held in September, saw the impasse only harden,
with the U.S. officially hardening its opposition to changing the
status quo. Indeed some commentators have called the U.S. posture a
"Monroe Doctrine for the 21st century."
Internet governance -- who owns Internet -- may be a pressing issue for
many nations, but it may not be more important than other weighty issues
on the WSIS agenda -- like how to use the fruits of technology to bridge
the digital divide.
Here again, critics speak of a `dollar divide' -- the fact that the U.N.
has an almost empty kitty in its efforts to leverage technology for
empowering the underprivileged. A Digital Solidarity Fund has been
mooted to fill this lacuna and the U.N. has so far raised $5.7 million
from member states. Should IT-related activity by corporations and
profit makers be taxed to create a corpus for the less advantaged? This
is just one proposal that will be aired in Tunis.
The event should see global interest focused on India for one reason at
least. The country's shrewd harnessing of people's talents and energy to
carve a name as a premier IT destination is one of the success stories
of the world's ongoing affair with computers and communication.
But the challenge to use such an edge to reach out to under-empowered
rural millions is something that continues to challenge and provoke --
and there may be lessons to be learnt from other similarly positioned
So, as we showcase the success of Kerala's "Akshaya" e-literacy
programme and Karnataka's "Bhoomi" project to computerise land records;
as we tout the reach of Andhra Pradesh's "e-Seva" citizen services and
the spread of wireless-based rural telephony networks, we might do
worse than listen to planners from Brazil and Egypt, Thailand and South
Africa, who in their own way have shown that no divide, even a digital
one, is unbridgeable, if people and governments want to do it.
Meanwhile they will continue to ask, 'who owns Internet' and recall that
old school rhyme, "Finders keepers, losers weepers" — except that in the
case of the World Wide Web, it's the founders rather than finders, who
are hanging on to control of the modern day wonder they call the
Internet. Source:The Hindu
Check APC blogs too:
- At 5:27 PM +0530 14/11/05, Frederick Noronha (FN) wrote:
>http://southasia.oneworld.net/article/view/122112/1/5339Sometimes history could do with a bit of editing. In this case,
>The Internet: a case of `founders keepers?
>Indeed its origins lay in a network called DARPANet, a creation of
>the U.S. government's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency,
>which was initially handed over to a consortium of American academic
>institutions, then grew and grew... to become today's Internet.
correcting as well. While DARPANet was an early user of the first
Internet protocols, to implement them, they drew on help from
Britain. Even today, the Net would be quite useless as a common
person's resource if it wasn't for the Web, whose development was
unmistakably European. I don't have time to give you all the
references right now, but they are worth googling for. I don't think
anyone wants to see the Net degenerate into a set of disconnected
networks, but on the one hand let us remember there are already quite
a few global networks out there that aren't part of the Net, and on
the other remember that sharing control with persons from around the
world need not necessarily mean degeneration.
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