Summit Starts in Tunisia : Controversial consensus maintains internet status quo

2005-11-16 00:00:00

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) kicked off Wednesday with a compromise document approved unanimously after several months of fruitless negotiations.

The document was hailed late Tuesday with a half-hearted standing ovation.

Nitin Desai, Chairman of the Working Group on Internet Governance

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) kicks off Wednesday with a compromise document approved unanimously after several months of fruitless negotiations.

The document was hailed late Tuesday with a half-hearted standing ovation. The discontent arises because the Internet status quo has been maintained, allowing the US-based ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a non-profit private entity working under an agreement with the US government, to remain as the main governing body of the global computer network.

"Very happy with the result," Ambassador David Gross, US coordinator of International Communications and Information Policy, told Terra Viva.

South Africa's Thembe Phiri, who had pushed for multinational governance of the Internet, said "a spirit of compromise prevailed", but added that the South had not given up on its quest for a stronger voice in the future of the Internet.

The outcome is likely to further upset civil society groups who have gathered here and have found themselves frustrated by intimidating security measures which have isolated foreign delegates, journalists and non governmental organisations from local groups.

Developing countries, the European Union and civil society groups had wished for a compromise on opening up ICANN to more international control. The body is widely seen as being under US tutelage.

In the compromise document follow-up discussions on Internet governance -- one of the most fought-over issues since the summit's first leg in Geneva two years ago -- is left to independent fora, whose decisions will not be binding. The first such forum is to be held in Greece next year, the US official said.

Proposed as "the solution", the World Summit on the Information Society is accentuating the problem: the North-South political impasse in tackling the North-South Digital Divide. All agree that the Internet has enormous potential for development in general, including in health, commerce and governance among a host of critical issues. But, as was in evidence in arduous preparations for the Summit, the North-South Divide prevailed over future management of the tool that civil society calls "a global public space that should be open and accessible to all on a non-discriminatory basis".

"The internet … must be seen as a global public infrastructure," says The Association for Progressive Communications (APC), an international network of civil society organisations. "In this regard we recognise the internet to be a global public good and access to it is in the public interest, and must be provided as a public provision."

Yet, on the eve of the 173-nation summit, it became apparent in a morass of last minute give-and-take among harassed delegates that the South's viewpoint would not hold sway.

Despite a determined push by South Africa, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil and others from the developing world, the developed countries, the United States and Australia in the main, held firm against any action that would have transferred powers from the US-based ICANN. The corporation manages "the domain name system" (DNS) enabling millions of computer users around the world to communicate with each other.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has characterized the Tunis Summit as "unique," because it will consider "how best to use a new global asset" rather than focusing on global threats, as most world summits do.

In fact, there is much more to the Summit than Internet governance, although that topic has overshadowed others.

Scores of companies have come to show off the latest in information and communication technology. Over 300 "parallel events" and roundtable debates are being held, and partnerships between private business and local communities in making Internet access cheaper and more available in Asia, Africa and South America are being showcased. One project has solar energy supplying the power for computers in places where electricity generation is expensive.

Yoshio Utsumi, head of the International Telecommunication Union and Secretary General of the Summit, is pushing for a $1-billion project called Connect the World to enable 800,000 villages to access the Internet.


Más información

Enlaces informativos sobre la CMSI (Túnez 2005)