Websters's first definition of 'govern' is 'to exercise continuous sovereign authority over; especially : to control and direct the making and administration of policy in' (2010). Governance and government are two simple derivations. Governance may be slightly less coercive.
Governments are in the control business. Quite literally, as their income is derived by controlling citizens and currency and most of their expenses are related to control, whether military, police or social programs. Given this it is natural that governments want to control the Internet, both to derive some income and to determine what sort of ideas are exchanged. This is neither necessary nor desirable for the majority of their citizens.
Such bodies as the IETF, IAB (IETF, 2010) and ICANN (2010) are the proper form of governance for such a heterogeneous, geographically dispersed and technologically dependent structure as the Internet. What is required is agreement on technical standards. Governance of social factors may be desirable, but is it possible?
Phillips (2009) proposes that governance: “
Prevent or, at least minimise, the risk of the fragmentation of the Internet
Maintain compatibility and interoperability
Safeguard the rights and define the responsibilities of the various players
Protect end users from misuse and abuse
Encourage further development”.
While the first two and the last may be achievable with the concerted effort of technical experts working in ad-hoc bodies, the third and fourth probably require some kind of enforcement power. At this time that would make government involvement necessary. “A global solution is required, which could be implemented through international treaty or some similar mechanism.” (Ibid.).
The coercion of humanity requires considerable resources (Rothbard, 2004, p1048). There are several arguments that the natural state of homo sapiens is liberty (Rousseau, 1755) (Waltz, 2001, p172) and that there might remain some evolved desire for the same (Rubin, 2002, p125). This is balanced at family and tribal levels, where the desire to preserve and protect one's genotype and to 'fit in' with one's culture are notable. But government beyond this scale is still fairly contrary to evolutionarily beneficial behaviors (Ibid.). So it seems unlikely that national goals can be harmonized any time soon.
The Internet is a new development that may replace a family unit in some circumstances, may extend tribal identity beyond geographical and therefore governmental boundaries, and may augment or redefine these or other societal units. Its effectiveness for delivering words and thought even transcends temporal bounds. As old works of art and science are brought online we may discover that much less of our psychological makeup is 'new' than we generally assume. Controlling content that is shifting and expanding like this seems unlikely.
Governments must continue to look for ways to tax the Internet. This has posed a challenge to American States when transactions span state boundaries. It continues to pose a challenge to national governments as they try to handle transactions across international boundaries.
The Internet requires some technical governance to function. Given its reach and constant technological evolution it will not be subject to governmental oversight. However, voluntary associations such as the Internet Governance Project (2010) may prove beneficial to society.
ICANN (2010) Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers [Online]. Available from: http://icann.org/ (Accessed: 2 May, 2010)
IETF (2010) Glossary [Online]. Available from: http://www.ietf.org/glossary.html (Accessed: 1 May, 2010)
Internet Governance Project (2010) [Online]. Available from: http://www.internetgovernance.org/ (Accessed: 2 May, 2010)
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2010) govern [Online]. Available from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/govern (Accessed: 2 May, 2010)
Phillips, C. (2009) 'Lecture for Week 5: Internet Governance – Infrastructure Governance', Laureate Online Education [Online]. Available from: https://elearning.uol.ohecampus.com/bbcswebdav/xid-74024_4 (Accessed: April 28, 2010)
Rothbard, M.N. (2004) Man, Economy and State with Power and Market [Online]. Available from: http://mises.org/books/mespm.pdf (Accessed: 1 May, 2010)
Rousseau, J.J. (1755) A Discourse Upon The Origin And The Foundation Of The Inequality Among Mankind [Online]. Available from: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/11136/pg11136.html (Accessed: 1 May, 2010)
Rubin, P. (2002) Darwinian politics: the evolutionary origin of freedom. Piscataway, N.J.: Rutgers University Press
Waltz, K.N. (2001) Man, the state, and war: a theoretical analysis. New York: Columbia University Press