[governance] Is This An Issue for Internet Governance/Internet Human Rights?

michael gurstein gurstein at gmail.com
Sat Jul 23 22:17:09 EDT 2011

I think there are two issues that militate against a primitive market
approach as you are articulating for this context/these examples.  The first
is that since these are Internet based services/products they are by their
nature both of every jurisdiction and of no jurisdiction. For reasons
various folks have already mentioned the matter of what jurisdiction might
have regulatory/taxation authority is most definitely not a simple one as it
would be in the case of a physical product--and as is becoming quite evident
now is as requiring of a solution/response as global as the
services/products to which they would be applied.
The second issue reinforces the first which is that for a variety of reasons
for Internet based services/products such as those offered by Google
quantity has in fact become quality. The effeciencies and additional
effectivenesses/functionalities of these services/products have become so
successful that they have become constituative of a number of the conditions
for participation in daily life in the 21st century.  The absence of these
services/products (with no reasonable alternatives available) denies those
without these "capabilities" the means to participate in daily life as they
might reasonably have expectations and to which they have a natural right
(life, liberty... peace, order.. etc.etc.-take your pick)
That certain products/services in this time have come to achieve this status
was certainly not the intent of the providers. They were, as you indicated
below simply offering a product/service like thousands of other industries.
That they have been so successful with their products/services that they
have become a codition of modern life while not something they wished for
should be evident from the tale of the individual attempting to deal with
Google among other similar such stories.
Combine both of these and what you have are Internet based services/products
which are too big (necessary) to be allowed to fail (or be at the whim of
any single company) but yet for which there is no evident jurisdiction
within which they or the product/service can be held account.
That is the challenge--and tossing free market primitivism at it isn't going
to make it go away.

-----Original Message-----
From: governance at lists.cpsr.org [mailto:governance at lists.cpsr.org] On Behalf
Of Milton L Mueller
Sent: Sunday, July 24, 2011 5:24 AM
To: governance at lists.cpsr.org; parminder
Subject: RE: [governance] Is This An Issue for Internet Governance/Internet
Human Rights?

Let's look at the details of the case. 


Taipei said it wanted Android platform users to comply with local
regulations regarding trial periods and refunds. 

Google said, if you force us to do that, we will withdraw Android market
service from Taipei. 

To me, that seems fair enough. An agreement to disagree; a failure to
transact. That should be the end of the story. 


Those who are complaining about this result seem to be either disconnected
from economic reality or, at worst, hypocritical believers in having your
cake and eating it, too. Apparently, they want to tell Google: you CANNOT
offer services here on terms that you find necessary to meet your needs as a
supplier, but if you withdraw service we will whine about it and imply that
you should be forced to offer service in a locality you do not want to do
business in. 


There is a very simple form of governance at work here, it's called rational
mutual adjustments to local circumstances. 

The Taipei government says, "we will impose regulations on what you do."
Google says, in response, "well, those regulations are too costly to us, we
shall choose not to do business there." This kind of choice occurs in
thousands of different industries in thousands of different ways. You don't
want to live in a world in which that kind of adjustment is not possible. 


This process of choice provides checks and balances on both players. If
Google is too unreasonable in its unwillingness to comply with local
consumer regulations, it will be barred from many markets and lose out to
others. If Taipei is too unreasonable in its demands on external businesses,
it will only prevent its citizens from getting access to many valuable
products and services. 


Please tell me what is a better alternative?


Should a local government have the authority to tell a supplier based in
another country that it MUST offer its services in its locality, under terms
and conditions it does not find profitable or sustainable? Aside from being
impractical, it sounds self-evidently crazy to me, but if it doesn't seem so
to you consider what would happen if that kind of obligation were


So, there's a company in Hong Kong offering 1 Gb broadband at US$20/month.
I'd like the Syracuse city govt to tell them they HAVE TO offer it to my
home. Never mind the fact that cost conditions in Syracuse, with US-style
suburban homes spaced hundreds of feet apart aren't quite the same as HK
high rises, where one fiber can serve thousands of small apartments. I want
my 1 Gb broadband for $20, and I bet 80-90% of other Syracusans do too. 


OK, so that involves non-transportable physical infrastructure, rather than
virtual services, so maybe you think it's not a valid example. So let's go
with local/national regulation involving a potentially global, virtual
service. Let's say the national government of China says to Google, "we
think you have the best search engine so we want it here, but we want it to
comply with our censorship regime. So you MUST offer Google search here, but
all your servers serving the china market MUST be in the country, all your
Gmail accounts MUST provide backdoor access to the public security bureau,
and all search results MUST implement our censorship by allowing our censors
direct access to your results display process." Under my preferred regime,
Google has the right to say, "sorry, no deal." In the Parmindered world,
what happens? They MUST go in? 


So here is a more direct answer to this question:


Do Milton and others who seemed to have great reservation about
appropriateness of Taipie city government's regulatory competence in that
case still think, after reading about the case of unilateral withdrawal of
google service, still think that users of these services should have no
legal recourse with accountable public governance entity?

[Milton L Mueller] 


First, they do have recourse. They can insist that their government apply
local regulations. This may drive the multinationals out altogether. Or they
can get their local government to avoid applying those local regulations, or
to adjust them, in order to gain access to the services. There are two
parties at interest here. There is no requirement to transact at all if
either's needs are not met.  

If local or national governments should *not* be the entity that people
should be able to turn to, and these governments should *not* have the
regulatory competence, who should?

[Milton L Mueller] 


As usual, you over-dichotomize and -polarize the options. Our real
disagreement is on the nature and scope of the regulations. You seem to
think that any demand placed on a supplier by a consumer or a government is
de facto legitimate and right. I am saying that there are constraints.
Suppliers of services cannot be taken for granted as a natural resource,
just sitting there waiting to be milked. People produce Internet services,
and the people who produce them have legitimate incentives and needs that
have to be met, otherwise they will withdraw their services from the market
(or die a slow death in the market). Governments that assert controls and
regulations in a globalized economy have to face the fact that unfair or
overly burdensome regulations will lead private actors to withdraw from
their market. Full stop. Likewise, corporations who do things that lots of
locally responsive governments can't allow them to do will be barred from
many local markets, limiting their growth and profit. 


What's wrong with that exchange? 




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