As we wait for Apple and other vendors to churn out even more products and services, it's worth considering what makes them so useful and desirable, which is that they're connected to the internet.

At the end-user level, we take great deal of interest in how our devices' internet connections work and figure out broadband access, data deals, wi-fi gremlins and more.

Few people take a great deal of interest what goes on further up network chain though, despite this being just as important for healthy internet access as the endpoint.

That's understandable as providers and telcos have preferred to keep quiet about how they interconnect with each other — often not terrible well, and they wouldn't want retail customers to know that.


However, as the internet becomes increasingly integrated with our daily lives, politics, education and medicine, issues beyond just physically connecting everyone to everything emerge.

I can't remember who told me this first, but the value of the internet lies in the number of people — and devices — that are connected to it but also that the interconnected global hive-mind remains free and open.

The more, the merrier, basically. That's pretty easy to understand, but not something bonehead politicians like as it sidelines them.

Since time immemorial (OK, last few decades then), the administration of things internet have been in the hands of techie gnomes who have generally been interested in the principle of connecting as many people and things as possible, and doing so in an open fashion.

Thanks to that, we now have an astonishingly powerfully invention that lets us communicate, work, do all sorts of things from just about everywhere and across several different technologies, wireless and wired.

Imagine if you could control the internet through its administrative processes, such as who or which organisation can have internet-addressable numbers that lets other computers and users to exchange data with them.

Or, which domain names — like — can be used, in which context, who can have them, when and for how long.

Presently, the techies have been mostly in charge of those processes, and worked on keeping them neutral, fair and reasonable and by and large succeeded.

That looks set to change however, with nation-states, corporations and interest organisations doing battle in different forums few people have heard about, trying to wrestle control over arcane matters that determine how the internet operates from the techies that originally devised them.

The internet has its roots in the United States, which is why organisations such as the cryptically named Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) live there.

ICANN was created fairly recently, in 1998, and manages the worldwide domain name system and also the internet numbering system used to provide each single connected system with a unique identifier.

That a US-based organisation controls such powerful information troves has annoyed giants Russia and China especially, but also other large and medium-sized countries that aren't friends of the Americans — or particularly interested in democracy and individual liberties.

France, which likes to do its own thing whenever it can, is in full war with ICANN and would like the organisation replaced with something else.

The problem here is that the internet was envisioned to be an interoperable entity, with for instance, the DNS system running as a central database that everyone could use to look up information in. Ditto the numbering identifiers for internet connected devices. Some interest groups have pounced on this apparent weakness.

A process has now kicked off to make ICANN less US-government controlled, and more inclusive with other countries having a greater say in internet governance.

Depending on who you speak to, the "global multi-stakeholder" process has been a success, or a bureaucratic morass that's feeding lawyers and lobbyists without achieving much — and with the US government not actually ceding any control over internet administration.

Fiddling with either mechanism is likely to fragment and break today's internet, which is not in the global community's interest but might appeal to regimes desiring to control the information their population has access to.

A future with several different made-for-purpose internets could replace our current multipurpose network in a worst-case scenario, and that's not where we want to be.

Even though New Zealand is a small player globally, we should pay a great deal of attention to what's happening with internet governance, and fight for it to remain independently managed and open in the future.

There was nothing particularly broken in the common-sense and cooperative model that techies developed for internet governance, so why not just stick with that and keep politicians, lawyers, and lobbyists at an armslength to avoid having to constantly route around the damage that they want to inflict?

Juha Saarinen travelled to APNIC 40 as a guest of the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre.