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

Milton L Mueller mueller at syr.edu
Sun Jul 24 16:35:11 EDT 2011

Primitive, eh? Nice.

Michael, try to get over the shock you always seem to feel when confronted with a rational, well-informed economic liberal; I know such creatures are not supposed to exist in your world, they are all supposed to be Neanderthals, but that's just an artifact of the intellectual homogeneity of Canadian universities. Don't hold me responsible for that, and don't impose your dated stereotypes on this list.

Your argument is that access to the Android marketplace is a precondition of modern life. Withdrawal of that service by Google will, I guess, leave Taiwanese denuded, bereft, cast out on a desert isle. Well, bollocks.

First, the Android marketplace has hardly existed for a year and has not even come close to establishing some kind of necessity. I have managed to live without it until June 7, 2011, and have used it, oh maybe 3 times since.

Second, many android apps can be accessed directly from their maker who (if it was Taiwanese) could choose to comply with the local refund policy, e.g., a local bank. The Android market simply aggregates them for convenience. Yes, there is great power and benefit in that aggregation, but its absence is not a complete roadblock to transacting.

Third, there are competitive substitutes. Sorry for reminding you about that "primitive" market stuff, but have you ever heard of the iPhone and the Apple platform? Microsoft and Windows Mobile 7? HP and WebOS? I came very close to not buying an Android phone, which would have opted me out of the Android marketplace altogether. Yikes! I suppose if I had chosen an Apple phone Google would have been depriving me of access to something I deserve, and thus guilty of a crime . . . or, hmmm, am I the one committing a crime against Google? I guess I'm just too primitive to figure that one out.


From: michael gurstein [mailto:gurstein at gmail.com]
Sent: Saturday, July 23, 2011 10:17 PM
To: governance at lists.cpsr.org; Milton L Mueller; 'parminder'
Subject: RE: [governance] Is This An Issue for Internet Governance/Internet Human Rights?


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 established.

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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