[governance] Striking the right balance between private and public interests on the Internet

Jovan Kurbalija jovank at diplomacy.edu
Mon Dec 5 11:01:10 EST 2005

A few points on the discussion about public/private interests and the

The WSIS IG debate could have been more productive had it initiated a
discussion on striking the right balance between public and private
interests on the Internet. One main advantage is that the discussion on
public/private interests does not follow the predominant geo-political
division lines.  The public/private debate is taking place in many countries
(in the USA – cable operators as ISPs and the protection of the public
nature of the Internet) as well as at the international level (WTO: various
services – mainly education, UNESCO – multilingualism, etc.).

The private/public debate is not specific to this time or only to the
Internet. It is as old as the market economy itself (even older – Roman law
specifies various instruments for limiting private ownership through the
interest of others or the community). Thousands of pages have been written
on how to harmonise private and public interests. National laws in many
countries restrict private ownership in various ways (e.g. providing
critical services, anti-monopoly legislation, labour standards). 

One problem is that the mechanisms for creating a proper private-public
balance are not well developed at the international level. They remain
predominantly national, while the market, in the meantime, has become
global. This imbalance is addressed in various forms. Business initiatives,
such as Global Compact, try to promote socially responsible business
activities. The question of balancing private and public interests is also
the crux in, for example, the WTO and the ILO debates.

There is also a fast growing volume of work on the public interest and the
Internet. Lessins and Milton have written about it. As was mentioned in
previous inputs, the APC have contributed a lot to this field. It is also
present in policy debates. During one of the PrepComs, Bertrand made a very
eloquent intervention, linking civil society’s raison d’être in the IG
debate to the promotion of global public interests. In Tunis, the World
Banke had very good panel on public interests and the Internet.

Here are a few follow-up points:

-          the key is how to establish a balance between private-driven
Internet development and the public interest. Civil society could play a
vital role in striking this balance, through an informed and inclusive
debate. It should make use of its expertise in this field by identifying
problems and suggesting “win-win solutions” whenever possible;

-          Google and other companies, which show more sensitivity to public
interests, might be interested in becoming constructive players in various
private-public initiatives;

-          while keeping in mind some broader concepts, such as “global
public good,” the debate should focus on concrete issues (e.g. a few months
ago Djibouti was disconnected from the Internet due to a business decision
by the bandwidth provider based in the United Arab Emirates; a possible
multilateral arrangement should specify that private operators who provide
the only national link to the Internet should engage in broader
consultations before they disconnect countries from the Internet; some fund
or international mechanism should be established for reacting to situations
when a country is in danger of being completely disconnected from the

Seiiti Arata sent an e-mail about research on public and private interests
on the Internet. This research is still in its early phase, but is a good
basis for a more comprehensive analysis. Please send an e-mail to Seiiti and
his team
 The public-private balancing act will be one of the topics at the
IG Conference in Malta (http://www.diplomacy.edu/Conferences/IG/). Hope to
see you in Malta.

Regards, Jovan

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