Wednesday, October 12, 2005

EU changes stand on Internet governance

The last prepatory meeting before the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva is over. The official meeting in Tunis from 16-18 November 2005 can start. The main issues of the debate on the internationalization of Internet Governance were the management of the Internet's core resources, namely the domain name system, IP addresses, and the root server system.

Presently the management is done by a non-profit group called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This group works under contract of the American government. The members of this group work mainly on technical issues but also technical issues can have political implications, as they found out recently when the proposed a .xxx suffix for the porn industry.

The link of ICANN with the US government has been a point of discussion since the first leg of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in 2003. Given the mistrust towards the US, the proposal was made to bring the governance of Internet under the UN and specifically under Internetional Telecom Union (ITU). Although this institution is not seen as the most flashy one, many countries saw rather the link between ICANN and ITU than between ICANN and the US government.

The US government took a begnin attitude toward the proposal after Geneva, but came back with the statement at the beginning of the year that it would not hand over the Internet governance. This drew a strong reaction from countries as Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China. These countries wanted more control over Internet and threatened to start their own Internet, if necessary. Can you imagine when China starts its own Internet organisation; it will be them against the rest of the world.

The European Commission and institutes had so far given support to the Americans (as usual). But this front was broken recently by calls by Denmark, France, Spain and the Netherlands (did not read anything about the change of stance by the government in the papers!) for greater government influence over the internet. The EU presidency Britain, a staunch supporter of the US, had to bring a proposal to the table, which tried to mediate between the US and the disagreeing countries. The new cooperation model it proposed should be based on the current bottom-up public-private partnership; it should also provide a platform for policy dialogue in the interest of all governments in a light, fast reacting and flexible approach. The new model should be based on the following principles:
• it should not replace existing mechanisms or institutions, but should build on the existing structures of Internet Governance, with a special emphasis on the complementarity between all the actors involved in this process, including governments, the private sector, civil society and international organisations;
• the new public-private co-operation model should contribute to the sustainable stability and robustness of the Internet by addressing appropriately public policy issues related to key elements of Internet Governance.
The new system would be a “multi-stakeholder” process that includes industry and civil-society groups.

The brokering of the EU so far has not delivered any change of stance by the US. That country is isolated over the position of holding on to the control over ICANN. The other countries want this to change. Viviane Reding the EU commissioner responsible for the net warned in an BBC interview for a potential web meltdown.

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