In an article over on the Web Hosting Industry Review, David Hamilton poses an interesting question. What can the web hosting industry do to ensure that its voice is heard when the international bodies that oversee the Internet and national governments set policy?
The Internet is a hot topic in the media and in the political world. With things like new generic top-level domain names, intellectual property rights, hacking, privacy, and cyber bullying making daily appearances in the media, legislators and policy makers are motivated to take action. Those actions can have a significant impact on the companies that make up the hosting industry, and yet, the industry has very little impact on shaping those policies.
Part of the problem is the heterogeneity of the hosting industry. As Dan Garon points out, it’s not entirely clear exactly what delineates a web host from other online service providers. Certainly those companies that offer standard web hosting services are part of the industry, but large corporations like Google and Facebook also have a fair claim to be web hosts, even if they are their own largest clients.
Furthermore, those companies can have an unbalanced impact on policy makers; they have the money for the lobbying that gives them a voice in the halls of power, as do the larger traditional web hosts, but the multitude of smaller industry members, whose interests may differ significantly from their bigger competitors, are barely heard at all. Where the interests of smaller hosting companies conflict with bigger entities, like Facebook, that have an interest in advocating for privacy and data sharing policies that may not suit many web hosting companies and their clients, the smaller companies’ voices are drowned out.
Finding consensus is difficult in an industry that varies so widely, but as things stand, that fractiousness leads to policy being set without input from an industry that has a major stake in its implementation.
One possible solution mentioned in the article comes from Christian Dawson, COO at ServInt. He suggests that ICANN is both an example of how the hosting industry might organize to form a governance body and an organization over which the hosting industry should have more influence. It is conceivable that ICANN itself could be expanded to give web hosting companies a voice, or that the multi-stakeholder model of ICANN could be used to form a body that would give a more prominent voice to the hosting industry.
Dawson is also currently the chairman of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2coalition), which represents the interest of numerous industry stakeholders, including web hosting companies and larger entities like Google. The aim of i2coalition is to:
“…influence decision makers to weigh decisions on whether they are good or bad for the Internet economy and its foundational industries.”
The i2coalition, in its attempt to give a voice to the hosting industry, is an excellent model of how the hosting industry can come together to represent its interests to policy makers, but, as a US-focused body attempting to influence policy over an international entity like the Internet, it has some limitations.
What do you think? Does the hosting industry need to make more effort to be heard by governments and bodies like ICANN?