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 Thursday, June 01, 2006

Jefferson Rebuffed - The United States and the Future of Internet Governance by Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger and Malte Ziewitz, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Over the last several years, many have called for an internationalization of Internet governance in general, and Internet naming and numbering in particular. The multi-year WSIS process that culminated in November 2005 was intended to create momentum in such direction. The United States has long resisted such internationalization, fearing in particular the growing influence of China and similar nations.

The proposal put forward by the European Union in September 2005 would have offered a constitutional moment for Internet governance by suggesting internationalization based on fundamental values of the Internet community. The swift rejection of the proposal by the US was surprising, both from a tactical as well as in light of its own constitutional history a substantive viewpoint.

In this article we have described the main features of the European proposal and what it might have created. We evaluated four possible arguments explaining US rejection: delegation of power, objective rights, public choice, and de-legitimization of international regimes.

We conclude that a combination of domestic pressures and aversion of international regimes caused the US government delegation to reject the proposal. As a result, WSIS concluded without a constitutional moment for Internet governance. It may turn out, though, to be a Pyrrhic victory for the United States. The calls for internationalization of Internet governance will not subside and the US will have to continue to fend off demands for a transfer of power. The opportunity for Internet governance to be based on the values of the Internet community, however, will likely not return.