This is the first in a series of reports about the WSIS meeting. - Ed.|
I recently returned from the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) meeting in Tunis. In a number of ways it was a remarkable experience.
Up to an estimated 30,000 people came from around the globe to a high level United Nations sponsored Summit meeting. That WSIS was called to set the goal for everyone in the world to have access to computers and to the Internet is itself an achievement of a high order.
Delegations had their highest official present address the Summit. There had been various side events which just preceded the Summit. During the Summit, there was a large exhibition hall with exhibits by many companies, civil society groups and some countries. There were also hundreds of events, some listed on the official parallel event list, but others that weren't listed, that took place during the three days of the Summit.
The Tunis Summit itself opened on Wednesday, Nov. 16, and continued until Friday, Nov. 18. (1) The member nations of the U.N. sent delegations to the Summit. At least one account put the number of heads of state who attended at 44, mainly from African countries. (2)
Over the past several years, there had been much discussion about the ownership and administration of the Internet's infrastructure. The problem, which had been left unresolved at the Geneva Summit held in December 2003 and in the interim period leading up to the Tunis Summit, continued to be unresolved by the discussion just before the Tunis Summit.(3) Meetings to resolve the disagreement took place on Nov. 13, 14 and 15 and were referred to by the name PrepCom-3. The purpose was to prepare for a document of agreement on these issues which have been referred to by the term "Internet governance."
I was able to attend some of the meeting that took place on Nov. 13. Several of the delegations that spoke were concerned with the unwillingness of the U.S. government to agree to share the decision-making processes for the administration of the Internet's infrastructure with other governments. The dispute centered on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which had been set up by the U.S. government to put private sector entities that it chose in control of the Internet's infrastructure (the Domain Name System, the IP numbers and the Internet Protocols). (4)
Business representatives spoke at Sunday's PrepCom-3 meeting advocating that the status quo be maintained. They opposed government involvement in the decision making processes of ICANN. Representatives from several countries, however, pointed out that the ICANN situation empowers one country -- the U.S. -- to make decisions. The Brazilian delegation spokesperson stated that the status quo was quite different from keeping governments out of the Internet governance process.
Talking later with members of the technical community about their experience with the domain name distribution processes, I heard some of the problems governments had experienced. For example, before a country changed the provider of its country code top level domain (ccTLD), it had to get the permission of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Other problems included the control over a few ccTLDs by private vendors who would sell the domain names for their commercial value, rather than to represent the country. (5)
Though a number of countries expressed a desire for a change in how ccTLDs are administered, the U.S. government was unwilling to agree to any change. Thus ICANN continues as an irritant and frustration to many governments.
In the final agreements from the Summit, #63 includes language stating the right of a country to make decisions about its own ccTLD. The language states (6):
63. Countries should not be involved in decisions regarding another country's country-code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD). Their legitimate interests, as expressed and defined by each country, in diverse ways, regarding decisions affecting their ccTLDs, need to be respected, upheld and addressed via a flexible and improved framework and mechanisms.How this will affect the future of the Internet was the subject of the final ITU press conference held by Utsumi. He predicted that in five years time one should expect to see a very different situation than today regarding the control over the ccTLDs. That with changing technology and country policy developments, one should expect to see a more regionally based country code administration process which ICANN will have to come to terms with. He offered China as the example of a country that is currently establishing its own country code administration in Chinese, as ICANN doesn't offer this possibility. Other countries, according to Utsumi, were likely to do the same. As Utsumi explained (7):
"I am noticing already that the regionalization of Internet is going on due to languages, due to the differences of languages, due to economical considerations, mostly due to these factors and of course also due to the development of technologies. (The) Internet will not be one so called Internet controlled by one center. The regionalization has started and I suspect that in a few years the scenery of the Internet will be a quite different one."One example of a directory system in languages other than English and alphabets other than the Latin alphabet has been created by the South Korean company Netpia as an alternative domain name system. The Native Language Internet Address Service (NLIAS) is already functioning in South Korea to give users a way to access the web in Korean without knowing the URL.
"NLIA is a keyword-type Internet address presented in natural language," an article explains. Developed in 1997, "it has enabled non-English speakers and those who are not very familiar with English to access information freely using the Internet, a task that previously proved difficult for them."(8)
A criticism of ICANN is that it focuses on commercialization issues, rather than internationalization issues. Instead of extending ccTLDs to include other alphabets like Chinese, ICANN focuses on the interests of the trademark holder community. (9)
It was clear from the Tunis Summit that the frustration expressed by governments around the world that was not addressed, will continue to impact Internet governance developments in various ways.
On the way home from Tunis, I met a South African journalist who described the frustration he and others felt with the Summit actions on ICANN. The so called Summit of Solutions, as the Tunis Summit was called by officials, was not for him an appropriate title as the problems, he explained, had basically been left unsolved. (10)
2005/11/27 오전 4:52
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