[governance] Internet as public good

William Drake wdrake at cpsr.org
Thu Dec 1 10:26:46 EST 2005

Hi Parminder,

I'm familiar with the work you're mentioning, and with the two books that
were produced with UNDP support, etc.  And I know that a number of CS
folks feel strongly about this formulation, see it as normatively and
strategically advantageous, etc, and in light of that acknowledged that
the language would undoubtedly remain in the statement.  I just think that
the "broader sense" of public goods you invoke appropriates and turns a
clear concept into a vaguer one for political purposes (which I generally
share), and that this can engender confusion and dismissive responses from
other quarters in ways that don't help CS much.  Take knowledge and
information.  We can say these are public goods in the broad sense that we
think there are positive effects to them being as widely and freely
available as possible, but of course an enormous amount knowledge and
information is in fact individually/organizationally private and
proprietary, so when people who think in terms of the more bounded
construction of the term in economics see that, they think, what the hell
are these people talking about?  If the answer is that we don't care what
those people think, ok, but it does make negotiating with and persuading
them a little more complicated.  I think you could advance the same goals
without making this particular discursive move.  And I don't think that
the fact that people might ask about a clearly contestable appropriation
of a concept is indicative of the IG caucus being 'efficiency-driven' and
'positivist' (egad) and hence (?) unconcerned about normative objectives
like social justice and equality.  FWIW, epistemologically I'm more
inclined toward scientific realism and conventionalism, anyway, so you've
got the wrong guy with that one.

Anyway, probably a long thread on this isn't going to get us anywhere and
could distract us from the items that need to be addressed, so maybe we
should just agree to disagree and spare everyone.  Either way, thanks for



-----Original Message-----
From: governance-bounces at lists.cpsr.org
[mailto:governance-bounces at lists.cpsr.org]On Behalf Of Parminder
Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2005 3:01 PM
To: wdrake at ictsd.ch; 'Governance '
Cc: 'Anita Gurumurthy'; 'Guru at ITfC'; 'Chantal Peyer'; 'Pablo Accuosto'
Subject: [governance] Internet as public good

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 regardless.>>

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

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

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.



governance mailing list
governance at lists.cpsr.org

More information about the Governance mailing list