Magazine article Information Today

WSIS Preview: Who's Who and What's What at the Upcoming Summit in Tunisia

Magazine article Information Today

WSIS Preview: Who's Who and What's What at the Upcoming Summit in Tunisia

Article excerpt

Three Organizations to Watch at WSIS-Tunis

ITU: Summit Kingpin and WSIS Heir Apparent

It was at the proposal of the International Telecommunications Union, aka ITU (in 1998), that the United Nations ultimately (in 2002) decided to support a World Summit on the Information Society.

Since then ITU has been officially playing the lead role in organizing the two Summit meetings (the first held in Geneva in 2003 and the second held in Tunis this month) and all of the PrepCom activities leading up to each of the two major Summit events.

ITU's secretary-general, Yoshio Utsumi, has, in fact, also served as secretary-general for the Summit itself. And ITU has already volunteered to continue to support the follow-up activities after the Tunis summit later this month.

During PrepCom-3 meetings this September, some people were quick to nominate ITU as the agency best suited to follow up the Summit process and oversee the implementation of recommendations coming out of the Tunis phase, but others clearly were not eager to back an automatic transfer of authority to ITU, noting that other organizations are equally well suited.

ITU, nearly as old as the telegraph, has played a leading role in telecommunications technologies and related policies worldwide for more than a century and a half. In a world where wires will be less important than they were in the past and where new technologies do not necessarily lend themselves as readily to centralized government control, ITU would appear to be an organization in search of a new strategic mission.

As a proponent of the Summit itself and the leading figure in the Summit's development, ITU might appear to some to be a shoo-in for the job of following up on the Summit process.

But controversy over ITU's role going forward prevented a final decision on the matter of Summit follow-up from being reached in Geneva in September. Will the intersessional group go ahead and nominate them anyway? And if so, will the topic rage into a debate at the Tunis Summit?

ICANN: Red Herring of the Summit Process

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is officially recognized in Summit documents as being a member of the private, commercial sector. But because it was formed originally (in 1998) by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce and because it will report to that agency until its privatization is finalized, ICANN has taken the brunt of anti-U.S. sentiment from Day 1 of this Summit process.

When dignitaries from other lands point to the WSIS principles adopted in Geneva 2 years ago, they often hone in on one key passage: "[N]o one country should control the Internet." They may be pointing to ICANN when they say this, but what they are really saying is that the U.S. is controlling the Internet because of its loose affiliation with ICANN.

"The governance of Internet resources must be guided by a set of public policies," said Ambassador Sha Zukang, speaking for the Chinese delegation at PrepCom-3, but summing up the position of various other delegations. "At the global level, the [organization] responsible for managing the IP addresses, domain names, and root servers of the global Internet is ICANN, who is authorized by one country's government and responsible only for that country's law. This situation is very undemocratic, unfair, unreasonable, and its decision-making procedures are also not transparent. We claim that, to keep the stability and security of Internet, the public policy issues, including the governance of Internet core resources[,] should be kept under a fair, legitimate, democratic and transparent international Internet governance mechanism under the U.N. framework."

Besides serving as the euphemistic whipping boy for back-handed criticism of the U.S. government, ICANN itself has been criticized directly by Summit delegates for lacking global sensitivity in the assignment of identities, including top-level country codes (all in English). …

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