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UN outlines future of US-less internet

WGIG provides four models

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The United Nations has released its report into how it expects administration of the internet to work in future.

The report by the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) follows the outline given by those in charge of the process earlier this week at ICANN's tri-annual conference in Luxembourg. It provides four different models for future governance of the internet.

The merits of each model will be discussed at the Prep-Com3 conference in Geneva in September and finally end up at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis in November, where the world's governments will make a final decision. None of the models allow the US government to retain overall control of the internet's foundation.

Model 1

A Global Internet Council (GIC), consisting of governments, closely tied to the UN, but with "involvement" of other stakeholders. This model is a complete overhaul of the existing system with both existing overseers ICANN and the US government relegated to supporting roles.

Model 2

An "enhanced role" for ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). ICANN would stay in its current role and even be significantly strengthened thanks to the general world consensus.

Model 3

An International Internet Council (IIC) to be set up that would take over the US government's role but not be an explicit part of the UN. Likely to make the GAC element of ICANN redundant and leave ICANN as a purely technical body.

Model 4

Three new bodies will be set up to deal with three arms of internet governance. The Global Internet Policy Council (GIPC) will be responsible for "internet-related public policy issues"; the World Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (WICANN) will look after technical issues and basically be the same as ICANN is now but with closer ties to the UN and taking over the US government's role; and the Global Internet Governance Forum (GIGF) will be a global talking shop to thrash out ideas.

The working group also provided a definition of internet governance as: “Internet governance is the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the internet.”

In effect, it split the role of running the internet down to four areas:

  1. Infrastructure - meaning the domain name system and IP addresses
  2. Internet issues such as spam, security and cybercrime
  3. Intellectual property and international trade
  4. Expansion, particularly in developing countries

The main problems to be dealt with at the moment, it said, were:

  • The cost of accessing the internet for developing countries
  • There was no agreed international way of dealing with spam
  • Not enough international ways of dealing with crime on the Internet
  • The Internet was being run by too few, elitist people without enough transparency

The organisation that will be most affected by the report's findings, ICANN, was upbeat about the report. Chairman Vint Cerf said ICANN had yet to come up with an official response but that there was "all kinds of mixed reaction" to the four models. The devil, as ever, would be in the details, he said.

ICANN's CEO Paul Twomey said he was pleased with how the report had ended up, referring to its constant references to "multi-stakeholder" decision-making. He quoted the UN special advisor on the whole issue, Nitin Desai as saying that 90 per cent of the benefit of such UN processs were in educating people about the situation.

"One gets a feeling from a first reading of this report that the effort that the internet community has made in trying to educate the working group on how the present technical co-ordination [of the internet] works has been quite fruitful," Twomey said. "It is certainly a very different tone to what we saw at the end of the first round of the world summit."

The big sticking point at the UN however will be the US government recent assertion of four new "principles" over the internet in which it said it would "maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file". This is widely seen as an early shot across the UN's boughs, since the WGIG report made it clear that in none of its models does the US get to keep its "historic role". A big bargaining chip that the US government is likely to use to sway the overall process in a direction it wants it to go.

Perhaps rather conveniently, all the staff at the US government body in charge of this controversial role, the NTIA, has gone on a two-day "off-site retreat" and won't be unavailable until Monday. Fancy that. ®

Related links

Report webpage
Report in Word
Report in PDF

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UN report to leave ICANN’s balls intact
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