Efforts to replace U.S. oversight of the Internet with an international committee were defeated yesterday during U.N.-sponsored meetings.
Hundreds of government, nonprofit and industry delegates meeting at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, Tunisia, agreed to establish a new international forum to discuss Internet issues, but it would not have any policy-making power.
“No new organizations were created,” said David Gross, the State Department’s Internet policy chief and head of the U.S. delegation. “No oversight mechanisms were established by anyone over anyone. There was also no change in the U.S. government’s role in relation to the Internet, and no mechanism for such a change was created.
“It was a clean sweep, I’d say.”
Several U.S. congressmen remain skeptical. Rep. John T. Doolittle, California Republican, with two other members of Congress, has introduced a resolution urging that the U.S. remain in charge of the Internet’s day-to-day operations.
“Whether they call it a ‘board’ or a ‘forum,’ it’s clear that the ultimate goal of the U.N. is still to wrest control of the Internet,” Mr. Doolittle said last night.
More than 11,000 government, business and civic leaders are in Africa for the three-day summit, which was scheduled to officially begin today and is focused on identifying ways to bridge the global “digital divide” between technology haves and have-nots. But the potential fight over future Internet governance dominated the preparatory sessions.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit based in Marina del Rey, Calif., oversees the Internet’s domain-name system under a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Commerce Department.
Many nations, including China, Brazil, Cuba and Iran, have sought to end the U.S. government’s oversight role, and the European Union recently proposed phasing out the Commerce Department’s oversight of ICANN.
U.S. government officials rejected all efforts to change the current Internet governance structure.
Mr. Gross said the new international forum, which Greece has offered to host in 2006, will be used to discuss issues related to Internet governance, from dealing with spyware and viruses to developments in electronic learning and health initiatives. It will not have any policy-making power.
The forum will be open to all public and private groups, including industry and academic specialists, he said.
The 25-nation European Union welcomed yesterday’s agreement, said Martin Selmayr, European Commission spokesman for information society and media.
“This is a very good result in terms of the internationalization of Internet governance and the more cooperative model of Internet governance,” he said. “This is a great move from unilateralism to cooperation, and the EU appreciates the huge movement made by the U.S. on this issue.”
Paul Twomey, ICANN’s president and chief executive, said the delegates fought over the role of governments, not the role of ICANN.
“This is the outcome the U.S. had wanted and … it sounds like they headed off the efforts to shanghai ICANN,” said James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington.
He said the new forum “opens up the discussion, rather than just listening to the governments of China, India or Brazil moaning about ICANN.”
John R. Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Monday said the U.N. summit would be worthwhile, but would not resolve an issue with so many global participants offering different opinions.
“Other governments are sophisticated enough to argue that they don’t want greater control over the Internet, they want greater benefits from it,” Mr. Bolton said at a luncheon meeting with reporters and editors at The Washington Times. “Greater benefits means a greater say in how those benefits are distributed, and that’s the camel’s nose under the tent that we have to be very careful of. Whatever happens in Tunis, I don’t think that’s the end of the issue.”