Tuesday, October 18, 2005

WSIS still far from agreement on the global governance of the Internet

The last World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) preparatory conference (PrepCom3) ended on September 30th without agreement on several outstanding issues.

The most difficult issue is that of Internet Governance reform. The US is resisting calls by other countries for a greater share in governing the Internet. The EU, Canada and Civil Society had put forward proposals to find a way of involving more countries in governance while not passing control to governments of an authoritarian tendency. The US is convinced that it is not in its interest to agree to these proposals, that they would be inefficient and that they will ultimately threaten freedom of expression world wide

The core of the issue is the role of the US government in overseeing the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann)which is a non-profit corporation based in California and which has a contract with the US Department of Commerce. Icann manages the domain name system (DNS), the internet's address structure which enables computers across the world to communicate with each other. Icann decides what new top-level domain names to create ( e.g., .org, .com, .eu) and who should run the existing domains.

The US had agreed that by September 2006 it would relinquish its oversight of Icann but in June, citing national security concerns, it announced that intended to continue to oversee the organization.

The WSIS summit process is supposed to culminate in Tunis on November 16th to 18th. The issue of Internet governance will be negotiated again in a reconvened PrepCom3 in Tunis from November 13-15th, though the US is insisting that it will not change its fundamental position.

In addition there will be other inter-governmental negotiations in Geneva from October 24th to 28th about the political declaration, the so-called, ‘Political Chapeau’, the financing of information and communication technologies (ICTs), implementation and follow-up to the Summit. These questions are particularly important as they relate to the ways in which the ‘digital divide’ might be overcome and the benefits of ICTs actually experienced in the towns and villages in developing countries.

Unfortunately, both the Internet governance and the financing and follow-up negotiations will be hard for Civil Society organizations to influence as they will be conducted in closed sessions with minimal opportunity for observers to affect the outcomes. Given these difficulties there is speculation that Civil Society will issue its own alternative declaration at the Summit in Tunis in November.

More detailed explanation of the WSIS process can be found on the web pages of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and there is an informative article by Richard Wray in the Guardian of October 12th.