Global Tussle For Internet Control

Cory Kincaid
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A meeting next week in Geneva, Switzerland could signal a growing rift between the United States and a cluster of international forces who are all vying for control of the Internet.

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), slated for Dec. 10-12, is scheduled to address a proposal that the United Nations take control of Internet regulations, which currently reside in the hands of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a governing body appointed by the U.S. Government in 1998.

Sponsored by the International Telecommunications Union, WSIS is expected to draw 50 heads of state and thousands of government, business, and non-profit representatives.

The overall agenda of the two-day summit is to produce a concrete plan that will ensure global access to information and emerging communications technologies.

How to deal with minimizing what has become famously known as the "digital divide" has been in the works for years, and many critics of WSIS are skeptical that a resolution will be agreed upon between some of the wealthier and poorer delegates in attendance.

But the hotbed topic at WSIS will address the contentious and broadening issue of Internet governance, a charge that is reportedly being led by China.

A similar push was made twice over the past two decades for more United Nations-based control of web standards.

"There are some countries that have been very adamant to get their governments to play a bigger role in Internet management," Ambassador David Gross, the State Department’s coordinator for international communications and information policy, told Fox News.

China has been joined in its push to shift the power of the Internet by representatives from Syria, Egypt, Vietnam, and South Africa. Other reports state that Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil may also be backing the proposal for global governance.

According to Fox, WSIS statistics indicate that only one-third of the world's poorer nations use the Internet, and only a surprising 3 percent of Africans have web access at all.

The countries that are calling for a shift in power are proposing that control be handed over to the International Telecommunications Union, or to a governing body assembled by the United Nations.

However, concerns have been raised that the countries pushing for control are typically not leading examples of democracy or free speech rights, and according to Fox, shifting ICANN's control could lead to a potential crackdown on civil liberties and the free flow of information.

Proposals for a shift in Internet governance have so far met with fiery resistance from U.S. delegates, who believe firmly that Internet control should remain within the private sector.

The U.S. is fully expecting major European support in its effort to keep control of the Internet in ICANN's hands.

The WSIS will convene again in Tunisia in November of next year.