Summit Addresses Cyberspace

Tina Reilly
UNITED NATIONS – With the governance of the Internet potentially up for grabs, the yearly United Nations summit on information technology in Geneva, Switzerland is now scheduled to include discussion on the future of the Internet.

During the two-day summit, heads-of-state will convene to discuss issues pertaining to the control of the Internet's core systems. An estimated 56 world leaders have agreed to attend the event, among them thousands of attendees representing government and business interests.

President Bush will not attend and will instead be represented by a State Department coordinator, the United Nations said.

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) will be held in two phases. The first phase will take place in Geneva hosted by the Government of Switzerland from Dec. 10-12, 2003. The second phase will take place in Tunis hosted by the Government of Tunisia, from Nov. 16-18, 2005.

At a time when the international Internet community is calling out for more control, one of the questions will be whether the U.S. Government-appointed Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) should continue on as the governing body for the World Wide Web.

The proposal to create a treaty-based international organization has been raised at prior summits as grievences against ICANN continue to mount alongside increasingly complex issues pertaining to free speech, censorship, and the growing technology/digital divide between wealthy and poor nations.

"The Summit will be successful if it achieves three goals: raising awareness among world leaders of the implications of the information society; getting their firm commitment to tackle the injustice of the digital divide; and developing new legal and policy frameworks appropriate to cyberspace," said Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the lead organizing agency of WSIS. "The importance of communications and access to networks is no longer just a technical matter, but a fundamental policy goal for every nation," added Utsumi.

According to the United Nations, Internet governance has been addressed in the past as a fundamental issue facing the global Internet community.

However, there is considerable disagreement regarding the ways in which this should be done. In recent years, the role of shifting the governance of the Internet over to inter-governmental, multilateral levels of governments and international bodies has been the subject of intense debate.

According to the United Nations, Internet governance, the role of the media, financing mechanisms, and security of information will be the most difficult areas addressed during summit negotiations.

At present, the WSIS process has not sought to find any definitive answers on the question of international Internet governance, but there are several drafts in the works on a number of proposals regarding the ongoing debate.

Just last week, ICANN released a long-awaited schedule for the research and study of an international multilingual address system, one major step forward in appeasing governments who feel that ICANN has not sufficiently served global needs in terms of Internet use.

The decision came out of ICANN's Board of Directors meeting in Carthage, Tunisia and is expected to soon allow domain names made up entirely of non-English characters to register Top-Level Domain (TLD) names without the standard ICANN-approved suffixes like ".com," ".net," or ".org."

The push to align the Internet with the growing needs of the international, non-English speaking community has been a growing priority for ICANN.

The way the current TLD system is arranged, foreign, non-speaking countries must incorporate English words into their URLS, which would be the equivalent of U.S. Internet users having to use Arabic or Chinese characters every time they use or register a website address.

"ICANN has now moved forward with a program to introduce further competition and choice in the top-level domain markets," he said. "Today's board announcement came after a long process of consultation among ICANN and the Internet community, in cooperation with the business communities, technical communities, intellectual property communities and governments."