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Who Will Control Internet Infrastructure?
At a recent U.N. preparatory meeting for the World Summit on Information Society, the dispute widens
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2005-10-03 12:27 (KST)   

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As the third preparatory meeting (Prepcom III) for the U.N.'s upcoming summit about the Internet and its infrastructure came to an end, a dispute erupted over whether the management of the Internet's names, numbers and protocols should be controlled by one nation or by a multinational structure.

Brazil, China, India and several other countries insist on a change from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the entity created by the U.S. government. The U.S. government insists on continued control of ICANN, which operates under the charity laws of California.

Many governments believe that this is not an appropriate entity to protect those who depend on the Internet for their economic, political and social needs around the world. The stage is set for a difficult round of negotiations to determine if an agreement can be reached to resolve this dispute in time for the 2nd World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) to be held by the U.N. in Tunis, Nov. 16 to Nov. 18.

A representative to the U.N.'s planning meeting for the Tunis Summit, Motlhatlhedi Motlhatlhedi, who is Botswana's deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology, described how several developing countries support a multinational body to be in charge of the administration of the Internet's infrastructure, rather than only the U.S. government.

"The general feeling was for a change, as no single country should have control over the Internet," he said.[1]

Clarifying the nature of the dispute, the Brazilian Ambassador Antonio Porto explained how the Internet has become a critical part of the political and social life of his country: "Nowadays our voting system in Brazil is based on ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies), our tax collection system is based on ICTs, our public health system is based on ICTs. For us, the Internet is much more than entertainment, it is vital for our constituencies, for our parliament in Brazil, for our society in Brazil."

Given the nature of this critical resource for Brazil and other countries, Porto asks, "How can one country control the Internet?"[2]

The U.S. representative to the talks, Ambassador David Gross, who is with the U.S. State Department, maintained that the current management organization - ICANN -- should not be changed. He stated that "the U.N. ought not to be running the Internet."

Gross' position is that there can be some flexibility in what ICANN is doing, particularly with regard to the country code domain names like "KR" for Korea, or "US" for the United States, but that the current situation is desirable.

Pakistan's ambassador and chairman of the U.N. committee, Masood Khan, trying to develop an agreement on these issues, welcomed the U.S. stand. "The U.S. has taken a very clear position and has enunciated it and reiterated it both inside and outside the conference," he explained. "And that has helped the process because now everybody understands what the U.S. position is."[3]

Into this fray stepped the European Union. On Sept. 28, the EU introduced a proposal for a change in who oversees and who is in charge of the Internet's infrastructure. The EU position called for the creation of an international body, but outside of the U.N., to oversee ICANN. The EU also proposed the creation of a multinational entity to oversee and discuss issues related to Internet policy.

Under the proposal a cooperative entity would be formed from representatives of governments, the private sector (i.e. corporations), and civil society organizations (i.e. NGOs). Their proposal calls for the initiation of two new processes, at the international level.

The 3rd WSIS preparatory meeting for the Tunis Summit made a breakthrough in clarifying the nature of the problem of having one government exercise unilateral control over the administration of the infrastructure of the international Internet. As the UK/EU representative, David Hendon explained, ICANN is under "a contract from one government, and the government advises it what to do. It's kind of strange for governments to be advising a public sector body and for that body to be doing things for the whole world under the instruction of one government." [4]

While some progress has been made in understanding the nature of the problem, there is as yet no solution.

The history of the development of the Internet contains valuable lessons toward understanding how to create an appropriate entity to manage the Internet's infrastructure. This history helps to understand the models that made possible the successful development of the Internet as an international, public and inclusive communications system.

Also, online discussion and debate about the problems of the Internet's development by active Netizens has played a critical role in the continuing development and spread of the Internet.[5]

While the WSIS process has made a good start at identifying a critical problem needing solution, it has not yet recognized the importance of building on the models and practices that have been developed in the evolution of the Internet itself toward helping to shape its future.
1."Internet governance talks stall," Daily News Online, Sept. 29, 2005

2. Kiernen McCarthy, "EU deal threatens end to U.S. dominance of Internet," The Register, Sept. 30, 2005

3. Kieren McCarthy, "WSIS: Who gets to run the Internet? United Nations conference ponders net future," The Register, Sept. 28, 2005

4. Kieren McCarthy, "EU outlines future net governance", The Register, Sept. 30, 2005

5. See for example, my proposal made to the U.S. government in 1998 before ICANN was created, "The Internet An International Public Treasure: A Proposal" (PDF)
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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