Global public goods


The Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC) - created to develop proposals for norms and policies to enhance international security and stability - released a “Call to Protect the Public Core of the Internet” after its Delhi meeting (20-21 December). The declaration urges state and non-state actors to avoid activity that would intentionally and substantially damage the general availability or integrity of the “public core” of the Internet. It proposes the adoption of the following norm by all stakeholders: “Without prejudice to their rights and obligations, state and non-state actors should not conduct or knowingly allow activity that intentionally and substantially damages the general availability or integrity of the public core of the Internet, and therefore the stability of cyberspace”.

White House advisor Steve Bannon believes that essential tech platforms such as Facebook and Google should be regulated as utilities. Speaking anonymously to The Intercept, three sources close to Brannon said that the advisor believes that Facebook and Google have become a necessity in contemporary life. Regulating them as utilities would mean that they are more tightly regulated in what the platforms are able to do and which prices they are able to charge. The plan is akin to the FCC’s order that already regulates Internet service providers as utilities - an order which the Trump administration is seeking to reverse.

Microsoft CEO Brad Smith has renewed the call for a Digital Geneva Convention, in response to the WannaCry ransomware cyber attack, on 12 May. Governments should treat the attack as a wake-up call, and should take a different approach by adhering in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world. Among the proposed provisions of the convention is the requirement for governments to report vulnerabilities to vendors.

Microsoft’s Brad Smith announced three new documents that continue to shape the proposal for a Digital Geneva Convention. The first carries key clauses which should form part of the convention; the second outlines a common set of principles and behaviours for the tech sector to help protect civilians in cyberspace; the third proposes the setting up of an independent attribution organisation to identify wrongdoing. In February, Microsoft issued a call for a convention that whould ‘commit governments to avoiding cyber-attacks that target the private sector or critical infrastructure or the use of hacking to steal intellectual property’.

Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC), the new global multistakeholder body addressing risks in cyberspace, has been established during the 2017 Munich Security Conference. According to the announcement by The Kingdom of the Netherlands, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) and the EastWest Institute (EWI), GCSC is "a global body formed to convene key global stakeholders to develop proposals for norms and policy initiatives to improve the stability and security of cyberspace". Headquartered in The Hague, GCSC will gather number of independent commissioners from over 15 countries and from various stakeholders, and will be chaired by the Marina Kaljurand, former Foreign Minister of Estonia and the member of the UN Group of Governmental Experts on cybersecurity. It will also be supported by Microsoft and the Internet Society (ISOC), among others. GCSC will develop proposals for norms and policies to enhance the stability of cyberspace, and work on the exchange of knowledge and ideas between governments, the business community, academia and users. GCSC commissioner and co-chair Michael Chertoff, a former Head of Homeland Security of the USA, compared the Internet to the high seas and called for global rules of cyberspace that would make it possible for everybody to use the cyberspace similarly to how international rules allow everybody to use the oceans.

Microsoft president and CLO Brad Smith has called for a Digital Geneva Convention, outlining six rules to be included, calling the current situation 'a growing problem in need of new solutions'. He called on both governments and the private sector to do more in the area of cybersecurity, and suggested that a trusted and neutral 'Digital Switzerland' could assist in this endeavour. This came alongside his presentation at the RSA conference in San Francisco on 14 February. In a similar, but unrelated post, Scott Shackelford, Associate Professor of Business Law and Ethics, Indiana University, asks Should cybersecurity be a human right? Both posts emphasise the involvement of International and Digital Geneva as a centre for UN efforts to ensure global cybersecurity.

The concept of global public goods can be linked to many aspects of Internet governance. The most direct connections are found in areas of access to the Internet infrastructure, protection of knowledge developed through Internet interaction, protection of public technical standards, and access to online education. Global public goods, combined with initiatives such as creative commons, could provide solutions that would both protect the current Internet creative environment and preserve Internet-generated knowledge for future generations.

One of the key features of the Internet is that through worldwide interaction of users, new knowledge and information are produced. Considerable knowledge has been generated through exchanges on mailing lists and forums, social networks, and blogs. With the exception of creative commons, there is no mechanism to facilitate the legal use of such knowledge. Left in a legal uncertainty, it is made available for modification and commercialisation. This common pool of knowledge, an important basis of creativity, is at risk of being depleted. The more Internet content is commercialised, the less spontaneous exchanges may become. This could lead towards reduced creative interaction.



When it comes to the Internet infrastructure, this area is predominantly run by private companies. One of the challenges is the harmonisation of the private ownership of the Internet infrastructure with the status of the Internet as a global public good. National laws provide the possibility of private ownership being restricted by certain public requirements, including providing equal rights to all potential users and not interfering with the transported content.

With regard to standardisation, almost continuous efforts are made to replace public standards with private and proprietary ones. This was the case with Microsoft (through browsers and ASP) and Sun Microsystems (through Java). The Internet standards (mainly TCP/IP) are open and public. The Internet governance regime should ensure protection of the main Internet standards as global public goods.

The balance between private and public interests

One of the underlying challenges of the future development of the Internet is to strike a balance between private and public interests. The question is how to provide the private sector with a proper commercial environment while ensuring the development of the Internet as a global public good. In many cases it is not a zero-sum game but a win-win situation. Many other Web 2.0 companies have tried to develop business models which both provide income and enable the creative development of the Internet.

Protecting the Internet as a global public good

Some solutions can be developed based on existing economic and legal concepts. For example, economic theory has a well-developed concept public goods, which was extended at international level to global public goods. A public good has two critical properties: non-rivalrous consumption and non-excludability. The former stipulates that the consumption of one individual does not detract from that of another; the latter, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to exclude an individual from enjoying the good. Access to Web-based materials and many other Internet services fulfils both criteria.

Other legal notions

The notion of global public goods is one of several other notions that can be linked to the Internet or Internet-related aspects. One other notion is that of common heritage of mankind, a concept which was adopted by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In recent months, Malta – the small island state which was behind the introduction and adoption of the concept within UNCLOS – has been arguing in favour of the applying the concept of Common Heritage of Mankind to the critical infrastructure of the Internet.

Another notion is that of a global public resource, which has recently also been promoted – through several initiatives – as a possible solution for the protection of the Internet and its critical infrastructure.




UNESCO facilitates


UNESCO facilitates global advocacy and discussions on freedom of expression and relevant issues including privacy at the WSIS and the Internet Governance Forum. It further explores freedom of expression online in-depth through its flagship publication of Internet Freedom. UNESCO also defines key indicators to help stakeholders assess the local situation. Media development indicators are an analytic tool designed to assess the state of the media and measure the impact of media development programmes. Internet Universality Indicators aims to build a framework of indicators through which to assess levels of achievement, in individual countries and internationally, on four fundamental principles:  human rights, openness, accessibility and multistakeholderism.


In 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted the


In 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Convention of the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts. The Convention (entered into force in 2013) is aimed at facilitating the use of e-communications in international trade, and it contains, among others, provisions on the signing of electronic communications or contracts. It outlines criteria for the recognition of electronic signatures (irrespective of the technology used): an electronic communication is considered signed if the signing method (i.e. electronic signature) is capable of identifying the signatory and indicating the signatory’s intention in respect of the information contained in the electronic communication.


DiploFoundation works to strengthen the meaningful participation of small and developing states and mar


DiploFoundation works to strengthen the meaningful participation of small and developing states and marginalised groups in global policy processes, by offering several online courses targeting members from these states. Topics covered by the courses include data diplomacy, Internet governance and digital policy, e-diplomacy, e-commerce, cybersecurity, Internet technology and policy, etc. Diplo also offers customised Internet governance capacity development programmes, targeted at specific regions or thematic needs; these include online learning, in addition to policy research and policy immersion. A Master/Postgraduate Diploma in Contemporary Diplomacy with an Internet governance specialisation is also part of Diplo’s online learning portfolio.


In its Delhi Declaration for a Just and Equitable Internet, adopted in 2014, the Just Net Coalition stresses that ‘the Internet is a key social medium, and, in crucial respects, a global commons’. As such, the Internet must be maintained as a public space, and governed in the public interest. Internet basic functionalities and services (e-mail, web search, etc.) must be available to all people as public goods.  The declaration also underlines that ‘recognising the global commons nature of the Internet, all layers of the Internet’s architecture must be designed with a view to safeguard against concentration of power and centralised control’.


The Internet Society approaches net neutrality largely from a user-centric perspective, and its work in this a


The Internet Society approaches net neutrality largely from a user-centric perspective, and its work in this area focuses, among others, on: allowing freedom of expression, supporting user choice, and preventing discrimination. It also collaborates with businesses to develop solutions on issues such as network traffic management, pricing, and business models. Net neutrality also falls within the scope of the Internet Society’s research and capacity development activities. The organisation has produced several policy papers and other publications touching on aspects such as open inter-networking and zero rating. Its policy brief tutorial on net neutrality provides an overview of the key considerations, challenges, and guiding principles of net neutrality.



Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)


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