With the expansion of the Internet in Asia, maintaining democratic governance is key

Asia emerges as one of the world’s largest beneficiaries from this period of significant global expansion Internet. Home to nearly half of the world’s population and GDP, the continent is now home to more than half of internet users, while projections of economic growth of 5% in 2023 make it the fastest growing region in the world. Although Asia’s internet penetration rate of 67.4% is marginally lower than the global average of 71%, this rate has more than doubled significantly since 2011, with Southeast Asia driving much of this expansion in Internet access.

Southeast Asia boasts a thriving digital ecosystem on a steep upward trajectory, consisting of 460 million internet users – 100 million of whom came online in the last three years alone due to the impact of COVID-19 – and a rapidly evolving digital economy that is expected to nearly double by 2025 to reach to $330 billion, backed by six of the region’s digital mega-caps, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. What’s more, the area is The second fastest growing globally in terms of Internet users, which creates significant opportunities for transformative social and economic development.

Anonymous basis for the expansion of the Internet

While the vast expansion of digital infrastructure occurring in Asia, such as broadband cables and new undersea data centers, undoubtedly plays a crucial role in digital transformation, the contribution of the Internet governance ecosystem has been largely ignored.

APNIC, the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for 56 economies in Asia and Oceania, has been at the center of these governance efforts since the early days of the Internet in the 1990s. Like the world’s four other RIRs, APNIC allocates and records IP addresses, without which Internet connectivity and access to content would be online impossible. In keeping with the original Internet governance models, APNIC provided this vital service to customers of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in a designated Asia Pacific region, enabling these so-called “resource members” to provide Internet connectivity services to businesses and households.

Founded in Tokyo and later migrating to its current home in Brisbane, Australia at the end of the last century, APNIC oversaw a transformative period for the Internet, with global users rising from 400 million in 2000 to 2 billion by 2010 and the Internet increasingly becoming an important part of from everyday life. This expansion, and the consequent depletion of limited IPv4 addresses, has made the role of APNIC in ensuring the fair and equitable distribution of IP resources on the continent increasingly important.

A brewing debate over the democratic deficit

While they have made significant contributions to the development of the digital ecosystem in Asia, controversy arose in January within APNIC’s resource member community over the organisation’s governance structure and ownership. Given that RIRs were initially founded on a community-driven “bottom-up” model to ensure that the Internet remains an open and inclusive space whose development is guided by the interests of users, recent discoveries have raised several important questions.

A member of the APNIC community recently referred to publicly available company information in the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) database which shows that APNIC – legally APNIC Pty Ltd – is a single share private company owned by APNIC Managing Director and Secretary, Paul Wilson, who has held these positions since 1998, which has led to concerns that APNIC’s structure is not nearly as democratic as previously thought.

Jeremy Harrison, APNIC’s Senior Legal Counsel, responded to the concerns, confirming that APNIC does in fact own this corporate structure, but clarifying that the public-facing, member-led organization known as “APNIC” is legally a “special committee of the Board of Directors of APNIC Pty.” Ltd”, which elects an Executive Board which in turn exercises management and decision-making powers, with the sole company APNIC Pty Ltd acting as a holding company of sorts. Moreover, Harrison claims that this share is He held the trust of the executive board of APNIC, with the executive board choosing who owned the stake as trustee. In his written explanation, Harrison further posits that the Executive Board is the “beneficial owner” of APNIC’s sole share, while Managing Director Paul Wilson, as trustee, is simply the “legal owner,” who “could not do anything with the share without the approval of the Executive Board.” .

A community member later questioned this claim, noting the lack of public evidence of Paul Wilson’s role as trustee, as well as the apparent lack of an adequate system of checks and balances between the roles of the managing director and the executive board. Although this corporate structure is not legal, it appears to conflict with the public image of APNIC as an “open, membership-based” organization, and the traditional “bottom-up” multistakeholder model of Internet governance. Concretely, this concentration of powers creates an unstable democratic deficit within APNIC governance, given the potential risk that Wilson, as managing director, secretary and sole shareholder, could override the will of the Executive Board without clear authority to act as a counterbalance to the democratic will of the community. resource members.

The importance of bottom-up Internet governance

The bottom-up, multistakeholder model of Internet governance that some APNIC members believe is at risk has long been considered the basis for an open, democratic, and inclusive expansion of the Internet. Essentially, this model enables those at the heart of digital ecosystems, including the smallest ISPs, to influence Internet policy-making and contribute to collective action, as opposed to a top-down model whereby a government or intergovernmental body creates regulations that organizations make. Smaller opt-in without input.

This model will be key in the coming years, considering that the APNIC region still has a long way to go in its digital transformation. Despite the impressive Internet penetration, approximately 40% of the population of Southeast Asia does not go online once a month. Furthermore, the region faces a significant digital divide between more developed and less developed economies, which have access rates of approximately 75% and 60% respectively, which must be addressed to ensure that the social and economic benefits of digitalization are enjoyed inclusively and sustainably.

Leave a Comment