by Hilmi Toros
(IPS) -- It was not what they had set out to accomplish, but civil society groups gathered here to discuss Internet governance and development are vowing to make the best of the compromise deal that was struck.
The alliance of civil society and developing countries suffered a setback Tuesday in their quest to wrest control of Internet governance from the United States. Eleventh-hour negotiations produced a compromise document that maintains the status quo: Internet governance remains with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which answers to the U.S. government.
But putting a brave face on what in any other arena would be considered a defeat, some at least of civil society is trumpeting its new-found 'voice' in the critical issue of Internet governance. This voice will be heard through the Internet Governance Forum, a "multilateral, multi-stakeholder, democratic and transparent" grouping being established by the 173-nation World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
The forum will be free to discuss all Internet issues but will have "no oversight functions" and, above all, "would not replace existing arrangements, mechanisms, institutions or organizations" involved in the Internet. In other words, the forum will have no authority whatsoever and may likely function as little more than a gathering at the water-cooler mid-way through the work morning.
Still, many developing country officials and members of civil society see this 'consolation prize' as a platform to push their views on Internet governance and development of the web. They envisage a forum that will be able to influence the governance and development of the Internet.
Civil society and developing countries "did not fail," Pakistani official Masood Khan credited with the compromise solution told IPS. He said the forum could achieve a lot. "For one thing, it will be lively."
Some communication experts share that view. "The U.S. is not the only winner, civil society also won enormously," Adam Peake of the Center for Global Communications and co- coordinator of the Internet Governing Caucus in the United States, a non-governmental organization, told a news briefing.
"Developing nations are now participants," he said. "We never thought this would happen."
If there is disappointment it is because developing countries wanted too much, he said. Peake believes that in the preparatory discussions to the WSIS, developing nations should have pushed for more participation rather than trying to loosen ICANN's control of the information highway.
The United Nations, which had been earmarked for the task of Internet coordination by those seeking to change the current rules, made it clear Wednesday that it had no interest in assuming any such position.
"The United Nations does not want to 'take over,' police or otherwise control the Internet," Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of both the WSIS and the International Telecommunication Union told the opening plenary of the summit.
Instead, he praised the stewardship of the United States, noting that it had "exercized its oversight responsibility fairly and honorably."
"I coordinate, I don't control," ICANN chief executive officer Paul Twomey, who is currently on a public relations mission at the three-day summit here to clear up misconceptions about his organization's work and position told a select media gathering. "It's not a private company."
ICANN is located in California because that state is the birthplace of the Internet, but only five of its 21 board members are Americans, Twomey said. More than half the staff are non-Americans, he said, and he himself is Australian.
ICANN was dragged into the North-South impasse by politicians and officials who are born, bred and engaged in traditional "top-down control" of institutions. The strength of the Internet is its bottom-up approach, he added.
Twomey expressed enthusiasm for the proposed forum, noting that it would allow increased participation by governments, businesses and representatives of civil society.
The first meeting of the forum will likely be held in Greece next year.
November 18, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.