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WSIS: Who gets to run the internet?

United Nations conference ponders net future

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The question over who will be granted overall control of the internet from next year is proving the most controversial part of a worldwide conference being held in Geneva as we speak.

The United States, which currently has overall control of the internet, is refusing to allow other governments to take the lead role, arguing instead that companies, organisations and individuals made the Internet what it is today and they should continue to have the biggest say.

On the other side, Iran and Brazil are determined that the world's governments - and not just the US - are the ones who get to decide what is done. They favour pulling ICANN, the existing body charged with overseeing the internet, into the United Nations.

According to the US, this would stifle the flexibility and energy that the internet feeds off. Iran and Brazil point out that it is the United States and its companies that have the most to lose by having their system pulled away from them.

The argument is proving a major stumbling block at the conference, with half the time and an increasing number of resources being dedicated to this question alone. Despite this, we are seven days through the ten-day conference with significant disagreement remaining.

Pakistan Ambassador Masood Khan, the chairman of the committee charged with the issue, says this is "the most difficult question" of all. But, despite that, and in the face of ongoing disputes, he is quietly confident. Is agreement likely by the end of the conference on Friday? "I think so," he told us. "We have positions that are very rigid on both sides, but I think that they have also signalled that they would be able to find common ground."

The two most controversial figures so far have been the United States and China. US Ambassador David Gross has been forthright, telling a meeting just prior to the conference that as far as he was concerned: "The United Nations will not be in charge of the internet. Period."

He reiterated the same line to us when we asked him about it as the conference itself. "The UN ought not to be running the internet - that is a very firm position we have."

Unsurprisingly, this has ruffled a few feathers, especially considering the fact everyone is sat at a UN meeting in Geneva discussing this very topic.

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