Friday, November 11, 2005

Who Will Rule the Net?

The Epoch Times:

One of the great success stories of our time, the Internet, may soon be in for a major change.

Internet usage continues its global reach, with connected web users crossing cultural and national boundaries to tap the information highway. This expansion and popularity has caused many countries to examine who will control the Internet in the near future.

According to the Nielsen//NetRatings Home & Work Panel, by the summer of 2003 there were 580 million Internet users worldwide. At current growth rates, the Internet is expected to reach 1.21 billion by 2006, and 1.35 billion by 2007. [eTForecasts, Sept 2004]

With many countries using the Internet for development and procedure in government and private infrastructure—like Brazil, which heavily relies on the Internet for its tax collections—the question of Internet governance has become the focus of the upcoming U.N.’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Recently, government representatives from around the world met in Geneva at a preliminary meeting for the upcoming WSIS Summit, to be held Nov. 16-18 in Tunisia. At issue is control of the web’s “root” servers, which store index information and directories of the entire internet and are maintained by the non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a private contractor to the United States Department of Commerce. As the Internet evolves and continues to grow, representatives from countries like Cuba, Iran, and China are objecting to future control by the US, opting instead for UN control.

At the end of preliminary talks in Geneva, a U.K. government and European Union representative made a surprise change of position, deciding not to support U.S. control and instead endorse the idea of international authority of the Internet. David Hendon, director of business relations for the U.K.’s Department of Trade and Industry, proposed assembling an international forum to set policy principles for ICANN and adjudicate complaints.

Martin Selmayr, spokesman for the EU, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “…the EU is proposing moving from unilateralism to multilateralism in Internet governance. Public policy principles…issued in the future should be discussed internationally.”

The U.S. is opposed to relinquishing Internet governance to the United Nations. David A. Gross, U.S. ambassador and coordinator of international communications and information policy for the State Department, told the Associated Press that despite EU support, “We will not agree to the U.N. taking over the management of the Internet. Some countries want that. We think that’s unacceptable.

“When the EU’s proposal was read, it was interesting how quickly it was endorsed in large part by countries such as Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others who have been very clear that they do not believe” in principles of free _expression, Gross added.

The U.S. intends to keep all governments and politics out of the Internet’s growth, and preserve free-market development. In June the U.S. announced it would continue oversight of the Internet’s addressing and top-level domain system, even after the end of the current annual contract with ICANN, to keep the Internet secure.

Critics of U.N. control worry over larger, unruly bureaucracies containing countries vying for changes in international Internet policies. There is also the possibility of Internet taxation by the U.N. to build funds to support developing countries obtaining technology, or in the extreme the fragmentation of the Internet through the creation of other “root” servers and domains separate from ICANN control.

Not surprisingly, communist leaders in Beijing are leading proponents of U. N. supervision of the Internet, supporting joint international governance within the U.N. framework. But human rights groups are concerned about countries like China and their involvement in setting future Internet policy. Reporters without Borders, a media-freedom watchdog, says China oversees the most far-reaching Internet censorship and email surveillance anywhere, and is also ‘the world’s biggest prison for cyber-dissidents,’ more than 60 of whom are in jail.

Milton Mueller, Internet expert and author of “Ruling the Root,” told the U.K.’s Guardian, “I can’t see that a council is going to be able to improve the human rights situation.”

With nothing less than control of the Internet and the free flow of information at stake, how long can one country control it all, yet remain responsible to the whole world? The U.S., from the Internet’s public inception, has ruled the evolution of the web with little governmental interference, as noted by its record of non-reversal of any ICANN decisions. What would be the effect of U.N. control?

“I can’t imagine having to convene the governments of the world, or at least some task force, to measure those decisions about how to transfer a domain name from one registrar to another against all the treaties of the world,” Bret Fausett, a member of ICANN’s At-Large Advisory Committee, told internetnews.com. “It’s a level of bureaucracy that straightforward technical management issues don’t need.”

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