Thomas Lowenhaupt

A Model for Internet Governance at the Global and Community Levels

This posting presents an Internet governance model for use at the neighborhood and global levels. It reveals how, in our effort to fulfill our local need for a geographically-aware Internet, we can create the basis for a secure and reliable voting mechanism for the global Internet.

While the model's implementation might be impractical for ICANN's initial election, its structure proffers an effective voting system for the second election of ICANN's Board of Governors. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.


While the U.S. government, ICANN, its Membership Advisory Committee, the Berkman Center, and a multitude of individual supporters have struggled to create new mechanisms for the administration and governance of the global Internet, my neighbors and I have been focused on creating a communication system that will help meliorate the many problems of our geographic community.

Our 125,000 residents live in three distinct neighborhoods that together comprise Community District 3 - the smallest planning and administrative division of New York City. The District has a planning and service delivery monitoring unit called a Community Board, of which I am currently vice-chair.

In an ongoing effort to improve our community, the Board, through its Communications Committee, has reviewed the capabilities and limitations of traditional communications media and the Internet for six years. Over that period the Internet "'arrived" and we're eagerly awaiting neighborhood benefits, particularly improved communication and decision support.

In reviewing the Internet we detected several features that forebode a negative impact on neighborhood economic development and the governance of District 3 - particularly, the network's geographic ignorance and distance insensitivity. I'll focus here on a timely example of the problems caused by geographic ignorance, offer a solution, and review its implication for ICANN.


New York City's TV and newspaper headlines are filled these days with talk of Amadou Diallo, an African youth shot to death by four NYC police officers in a barrage of 41 bullets. One New York Times headline read "A Brewing Storm".

District 3 is quite diverse with many black and Hispanic residents. And the need to assure our neighbors that they are, indeed, our brothers seems appropriate, and maybe essential, these days. But the basic design of the Internet doesn't allow it to play a role here. AOL, AT&T, Bell Atlantic, Netcom and dozens of others provide Internet access to our residents. And those systems know nothing of our local needs. They do not connect the people in our neighborhoods. Here we have a life and death situation and today's Internet offers no solution.


What we need is a way for our geographic community to communicate in time of need. But equally important is a "neighborhood network" where people regularly meet to share ideas, make decisions, and organize for solutions.

At minimum, the Internet needs to provide a means for our residents to communicate with one another in times of emergency. In Radio and TV land there's an Emergency Broadcasting System (EBS). In the 1950's our neighbors decided EBS technology could warn against missiles, tornadoes, and other imminent dangers and instructed our government to install one. In the 1960's telephony provided us with the 911 system. And our cable TV franchise provides the municipality with the capacity to interject a message of civic importance. But the Internet will fall far short in this regard. It's a fundamental flaw.

But it's not only emergency applications that society asks of its new technology. With each wave we look for broader community benefit, e.g., universal service, educational TV, public service announcements, and C-SPAN. The Internet's potential contribution lies in a "neighborhood network" where people meet to share ideas, make decisions, and organize for solutions. (These are more commonly called "community networks" but, because of the many virtual Internet communities, I use the more land based "neighborhood".)

While most agree on the desirability of these networks there is some confusion as to their method of birth and sustenance. Some suggest that neighborhood networks be created through voluntary enrollment by users. But sans regulatory intervention, the reach of this voluntary system would be miniscule. They'll have no marketing punch against AOL et al. And most will see them as government or quasi-government; and we know people only seek government in time of dire need. We need a way to provide neighborhood networks with the desirability and inconvenience of a flu shot.

There are several ways to develop Internet-based neighborhood networks. I'll outline one that provides harmonious benefits for ICANN and global governance of the Internet.


(The neighborhood network described here is appropriate for a community located in the "world's capital" in booming economic times. Other communities might decide on lesser or more capacious networks.)

If our neighborhoods are to govern themselves and prosper as part of the networked world, all our residents need: email accounts and access to a Community Service Tier - providing federal, state, city, community board, and civic web sites. They also need a structure that develops and maintains the web page housing the Community Service Tier pointers; and training. The network must provide immediate notification of emergency situations upon connection - or a beep with always-on technology.

But since the Internet was not designed with geographic communities in mind, there is no simple technology tool kit to provide these features. So how do we create a neighborhood network?


In my community we created the not-for profit, Communisphere® Project, to develop the neighborhood web site, maintain mechanisms for discussion, decision making, etc; promote and provide training, and promote and/or provide access. Communisphere's web site will be the Project's key undertaking; however, we're prepared to be the "provider of last resort" for Internet access. (Currently, we provide email, listserv, and BBS services.)

We've a board of directors to help decide on access issues: who we list on our site - who we host - who we train, etc.

Working through the Community Board, and with the support of our community organizations, Communisphere will be designated as the "official" site for our community. We'll maintain that all good citizens connect to Communisphere - the place where neighborhood discussions and decisions are made. And (assuming we take the ISP route) we'll sign up about 300 do-gooders via direct dial up accounts.

So how do we let our neighbors using AOL, AT&T, etc. know about us? How do they gain access? How do they reap the benefits of a Community Service Tier, discussions, emergency notification, etc? How do we reach more than the do-gooders? This involves ISP Certification.


Since a key Communisphere role is facilitating the resolution of community issues we will only accept bona fide residents as full contributing members. We'll use snail mail to a neighborhood address to verify residency.

These "CERTIFIED RESIDENTS" can also be provided with voting rights to elect ICANN Governors. Perhaps ICANN's newly appointed Government Advisory Committee can recommend ways to bridge the gap on determining which local government is appropriate.

But what about the AOL, AT&T, XYZ…users? How do they get Certified? How do subscribers to these ISPs gain the safety features and the right to vote in neighborhood and ICANN elections?

Our Community Board will provide "Community-Friendly ISP" Certification to ISPs that meet minimum qualifications. These will be similar to the features promoted/offered by The Communisphere Project: provision of a free email account and access to the Community Service Tier (CST). Access to the CST should be provided from the ISP's browser - with the neighborhood network's icon going bright red in times of emergency.

I'm not suggesting that all residents will care to be part of the neighborhood. But those who do will be provided with the participation and safety features that our "Certified" ISPs offer. And they'll receive the additional benefit of qualifying to vote in ICANN's elections. (I'm sure billions are holding their breadth on this one.)

ISP's who do not participate and provide these foundation neighborhood features, will not be contributing to our community. We'll work with Certified ISP. Non certified ISPs will wait.

I hope this model is helpful. While there are several devils, I'm hopeful that the readers will contribute to their conversion.


Tom Lowenhaupt February 20, 1999