[news=http://www.slyck.com/newspics/UN.bmp]The issue arose at the World Summit of the Information Society last week in Geneva concerning the administration of the thirteen top level (or “root”) servers that control all routing to individual domains. Most of these servers are situated within the US, and are administered by the US government in partnership with California based ICANN. Without agreement, the Internet could fragment into different networks, which may not even be compatible with each other.
This meeting was supposed to be one in a series culminating in a summit in Tunis in November, to try to help developing countries influence the future structure and to try to redress the imbalance of their late adoption of the Internet. The US government has intimated throughout that they would be prepared to transfer all responsibility directly to ICANN. However, at the Geneva meeting the US government stunned everyone attending by rejecting outright any potential United Nations involvement. This particularly angered the EU who supported such a proposal.
EU spokesman Martin Selmayr said a new system of cooperation was important "because the Internet is a global resource." He added “that the EU ... is very firm on this position”, threatening a serious rift which could even risk tearing the Internet apart. The EU was supported in their stance by other nations, notably Brazil, Russia and Iran, uniting to say that no single government should play a preeminent role in governing the Internet.
In a bid to compromise the ITU, UN International Telecommunications Union, offered to step in. At a press conference ITU Chief, Yoshio Utsumi told reporters that the U.N. agency's experience in communications, its structure, its international composition and its cooperation with private and public bodies made it best-placed to take on the role. “We could do it if we were asked to” he is reported to have stated. However US State Department official David Gross retorted that "We will not agree to the United Nations taking over management of the Internet" effectively dismissing any prospect of compromise.
Gross is concerned that the EU appears to have altered its own position, and described their proposals as “a shocking and profound change” that involved control by governments – some of whom already censor what their citizens can have access to on the Internet. Some may question this stance, coming from an administration that has actively supported and implemented the Echelon electronic spy network. Undoubtedly his references were directed to Cuba and Iran, amongst others with a less than perfect reputation for observing human rights
EU spokesman David Hendon controversially dismissed this as simply being “misrepresentation”.
Whilst there appears to be no particular grievance with the way ICANN have managed the top level servers controlling domain names, Mr Hendon is reported as having said many countries "just cannot accept that the Americans have control of the Internet in their countries". The irony of this is that whilst it seems perfectly OK for the American government to control the Internet via ICANN, the Bush administration seems reluctant for any other governments to become involved. However, the UN has been at the heart of some spectacular failures over the years, most recently the oil for food scandal which can hardly have endeared it to member nations.
One thing for certain, there are likely to be some frantic diplomatic exchanges between the EU and the US before the scheduled November meeting if we are to avoid the possible disintegration of the Internet as we know it today. And it isn’t just the future of P2P that could be at stake.
October 6, 2005