[governance] Internet as public good

Parminder parminder at itforchange.net
Thu Dec 1 09:01:25 EST 2005


Bill wrote:

>> I don't think it makes sense for CS to patently misconstrue a
straightforward concept from economics, but it'll probably remain in there


And from an earlier mail of Bill:


>>Lastly, while this doesn't pertain to the IG sections of the text, I have
a question:


>>Pg. 1:"societies in which the ability to access, share and communicate
information and knowledge is treated as a public good"


>>Pg. 2: "Internet access, for everybody and everywhere, especially among
disadvantaged populations and in rural areas, must be considered as a global
public good."


>>Can someone explain to me according to what understanding of economics CS
should declare an ability, or Internet access, to be public goods, bearing
in mind the two key dimensions thereof:


>>>Non-rivalrous - its benefits fail to exhibit consumption scarcity; once
it has been produced, everyone can benefit from it without diminishing
other's enjoyment.

Non-excludable - once it has been created, it is very difficult, if not
impossible, to prevent access to the good.



It is not any misconstruing a straightforward concept from economics, but
sufficient thought, deliberation and research has gone into it. Please find
enclosed a paper commissioned by APC and another by ITeM on this issue. 


Public goods is a widely used concept in a broader sense - and Global Public
Goods is increasingly used concept in global governance discourse (pl see
various UN documents on it). 


There are few pure public goods, and many other goods that are complimentary
to pure public goods are also considered public goods. 


In the above formulations there are three goods considered as public goods -
access to knowledge, ability to access knowledge and the means of free
access to knowledge (Internet access being one major mean)


Access to knowledge and ability to access to knowledge are widely recognized
as public goods (education is considered a public good, and it basically
consists in access to knowledge and capacity to access knowledge) 


So I cant see what could be anyone's problem with that - in considering
access to knowledge and ability to access knowledge as a public good. 


As for considering access to Internet as public good - as discussed above
there are few pure public goods - and the description is used in a wider


Providing Public Goods almost always is mediated through provision of goods
that are not pure public goods. And construing the definition of public
goods as strictly within two necessary conditions as laid above leads to
absurd results. For example, eradication of communication is a global public
good - but this conception is meaningless if we say, but well providing
access to necessary vaccines to all is not a public good - because such a
provisioning is obviously excludable. So any meaningful and actionable
consideration of 'prevention of communicable diseases'  as a public good is
possible only if provisioning of necessary vaccines is also considered a
public good. Without the later, the former conception is obviously
meaningless, and a mere play with words. 


So if we consider that Internet today is a major vehicle not only of access
to knowledge, but also the major enabler of so many life-enriching
opportunity, it is obvious that a market-based provisioning of Internet
greatly under-optimizes these great universal opportunities. Everyone will
be much better off if a public goods based provisioning of internet is made.
There is a lot said and written on this issue (including with regard to
public provisioning of Internet in many cities in the developed countries)
and the inputs made to the draft CS declaration is informed by all these. 


It is in any case the job of the CS is to take such views of issues that are
forward-looking, and based on principles of social justice and equity. I may
also add here that a global public goods based approach to ICTs has been a
main plank of CS advocacy during the WSIS.


I know that in saying what I am going to say now, I will be treading on
dangerous grounds, but I do feel that many on this list (IG caucus) take too
much of a efficiency-driven, almost a positivist approach to Internet rather
than a normative approach - about what all can Internet can do to build a
world that is more equal and just to everyone. Maintaining and enhancing
efficiency and stability of the Internet is very important, but Internet is
a potent force with great potentiality, and much hope has been vested by
many on its possibilities. 


I think sorting out the basic approach of what are we really looking for
here in our IG advocacy will help us a lot to move ahead. 





Parminder Jeet Singh

IT for Change

Bridging Development Realities and Technological Possibilities 




-----Original Message-----
From: governance-bounces at lists.cpsr.org
[mailto:governance-bounces at lists.cpsr.org] On Behalf Of William Drake
Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2005 4:02 PM
To: Governance 
Subject: Re: [governance] New version of WSIS CS statement: Two IG issues


Hi Jeanette,


> -----Original Message-----

> From: governance-bounces at lists.cpsr.org

> [mailto:governance-bounces at lists.cpsr.org]On Behalf Of Jeanette Hofmann


> regarding your first suggestion to add our stuff to the list of major

> goals, it seems this is a question of political preferences and weight.

> We can certainly suggest this addition but so might 10 other caucuses

> who believe that gender issues, community radios and other vital issues

> constitute crucial goals. In other words, this is for the editor

> to decide.


I understand your concern, but a few points in response:


First, while it is indeed possible that other groupings might want their

issues so positioned, I don't think the addition of one sentence on IG

would be the primary reason for this.  There are already grounds for such

a response. Second, IG was by any measure the most heatedly contested and

headline grabbing focus of phase II. This is not a personal interest-based

assertion that IG is 'more important' than other items, I think it's a

statement of empirical fact.  There was a high-stakes global battle

underway that CS expended a great deal of effort to weigh in on, and we

actually had an impact in some important respects, so why should we be

afraid to say this was a major concern going in?  If I were a government

or press person reading the statement, I'd certainly wonder why IG wasn't

listed as a key objective.  Third, frankly, my preference would be to have

passages on each of the three main foci of the negotiations as determined

by governments---IG, financing, and follow-up and implementation---and one

each on HR and multistakeholder inclusion; that is, three issue-specific

and two cross-cutting objectives.   Starting from what phase II was

actually about seems entirely logical and a clear basis upon which Ralf

could explain what is listed here and what is not.  There is anyway lots

of text later on in the statement on issues that received more emphasis in

phase I.


> 2. IG caucus participation: I like your wording but wonder whether we

> should be so specific about the working group we are discussing. Do we

> have already agreement on the scope of the working group? I am not

> convinced yet that the wg should solely focus on "modalities". So why

> not something like "...create a working group that will make

> recommendations on relevant aspects concerning the IGF".


Makes sense, I was just using the extant formulation.  Since Avri's ok

with your suggestion, unless someone objects, I hope Ralf can take this on

board.  Re: Vittorio's concern, I don't think saying that the caucus will

try to set up a WG implicitly or explicitly means that any other CS

grouping can't do what it wants.


> I agree with your points re "public good".


I don't think it makes sense for CS to patently misconstrue a

straightforward concept from economics, but it'll probably remain in there



Lastly, in light of things said in the thread concerning the public

awareness paragraph, I would suggest that this should be moved to the four

para section on Education and Research, which I presume Divina played a

role in shaping.  Clustering like points and having thematic sections that

come from people involved in the respective caucuses would in no way

constitute a downgrading of this important concern.


Again, since Ralf is trying to wrap this up by tomorrow and wants to know

that there is buy in before he makes changes, I hope people can weigh in

yea or nay on the two IG points.








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