The Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG) and Its Role in Internet Governance
21 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2012 Last revised: 20 Sep 2012
Date Written: March 31, 2012
Multi-stakeholder (MSH) organizations have played a critical role in the success of the Internet. These organizations, formed largely without official government action, have helped guide the Internet in its growth to date and set the guidelines and protocols for its operation. Today, though, there are some that would like to see governance of the Internet put under more structured sovereign control and the calls for such have become louder in anticipation of the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12). As the Internet becomes more central to nearly every civic and sovereign activity, there are fears that the network of networks that is the Internet is just “too important” to leave alone or to let largely govern itself. Arguably though, greater governmental involvement in Internet governance would be a step in the wrong direction and threatens to change the “recipe” that has brought the Internet so far and so fast.
As a counterpoint to calls for more sovereign control, the Obama Administration has put forth proposals that would increase and make more explicit the reliance on MSH groups in the important areas of Internet privacy and cybersecurity. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has stated that:
….the United States supports the public-private collaboration that now exists to manage the technical evolution of the internet in real time. We support the principles of multi-stakeholder internet governance developed by more than 30 nations in the OECD earlier this year. A multi-stakeholder system brings together the best of governments, the private sector, and civil society. And most importantly, it works. It has kept the internet up and running for years all over the world.
Given the intensifying focus on MSH organizations, the motivation behind this paper is to provide the telecommunications policy research community with more information on a relatively new MSH group, the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG). It was formed in response to proposals for Internet regulation in the U.S. that arose around the issue of “Net Neutrality.” Its formation and ensuing evolution was also influenced by a related court case (Comcast Corp. v. FCC) that brought into question the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) authority in the area and by the FCC’s subsequent Open Internet Report and Order. The hope is that the information provided on BITAG herein will be useful to other researchers in studying and assessing the continued role of MSH organizations in the future governance of the Internet.
Accordingly, this paper proceeds in three parts. Part I provides a brief overview of three principal multi-stakeholder (MSH) organizations that are currently involved in Internet governance. The three organizations, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), are described in terms of their history and mission, structure, operations/processes and relationship to governmental entities. Part II then describes in somewhat greater detail the same aspects of the BITAG while focusing attention on some of the more important governance issues that arose during its formation and in its initial operations. Finally, Part III describes in brief the first three technical issues relating to network management that BITAG has addressed through its Technical Working Group (TWG). It closes with a preliminary assessment of the group’s progress to date.
Keywords: Internet Governance, Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group, BITAG, Multistakeholder, MSH
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