ICANN Gets Cold Shoulder At WSIS

Cory Kincaid
GENEVA, Switzerland – Just as the The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is scheduled to begin on Wednesday of this week, tensions are already running high, many delegates have cancelled attendance, and already Paul Twomey, president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is getting the brush-off.

Among the many topics being disussed, which began informally over the weekend, is a proposal that the United Nations take control of regulating the Internet.

ICANN and the United States government are expected to be the center of some very heated diplomatic discussions.

Leading the charge to dismantle U.S.-based control of the web is China, Cuba, and a growing list of eastern countries, including Africa.

A recent study states that Internet surfers in China are expected to hit 78 million by the end of 2003, which is still considered a low penetration rate for Internet usage, but a clear statistic that underscores the increasing desire among other countries to strengthen their ties to the Internet and its control.

According to reports, Twomey arrived in Geneva on Monday with intent to observe a preparatory meeting but was escorted out of the room by guards after the diplomats in attendance unexpectedly decided that observers should be expelled from the meeting.

Twomey told the New York Times that he was concerned that there was no representation from the technical side of the Internet, and that his rejection from the meeting is further evidence that there is rising tension between the U.S. and a long list of countries vying to shift control of the web into United Nations hands.

"At ICAAN anybody can attend meetings, appeal decisions or go to ombudsmen," Twomey told the Times. "And here I am outside a U.N. meeting room where diplomats - most of whom know little about the technical aspects - are deciding in a closed forum how 750 million people should reach the Internet."

According to reports, the closed-door weekend meetings at WSIS concluded with a decision from representatives attending the conference that a working group should be formed under the auspices of the United Nations to examine Internet governance, including whether more formal oversight of ICANN by governments or intragovernmental agencies is necessary, the Times stated.

There is a proposal on the table that ICANN be dissolved into a larger governance body that includes representatives from each continent, in addition to the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Chamber of Commerce, and many more.

Another meeting on the subject is scheduled for early this week that will include leaders from six African countries, five Middle Eastern countries, four European and two Asian countries as well as Kofi Annan, secretary general for the United Nations.

According to the Times, representatives for ICANN and the United States government have not been invited to attend.

ICANN's response to the global push to dismantle the current Internet governance structure is that ICANN already has 100 governments represented on its advisory committee and that future plans include the opening of regional offices in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

"It is not broken, so why fix it?" Twomey told the Times.