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Global net tussle reaches uneasy truce

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Governments, business, academia and civil society have reached an uneasy truce at the end of two days of meetings over the creation of a new global body for the internet.

There remain a number of large issues to be agreed but, thanks to some heavy prodding by UN special adviser Nitin Desai, enough agreement was reached for a first report to be sent to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Annan was bestowed the task of deciding the form of the new Internet Governance Forum (IGF) by world governments in November, and is expected to make his first recommendations in a fortnight's time.

The IGF will be an annual event and will be rotated geographically: so while the first meeting is in Athens, Greece, the offer by the Brazilian government to host IGF 2007 in Rio de Janeiro is likely to be accepted.

The forum will bring together world experts with representatives from governments, non-governmental organisations and business for a period of three to five days to discuss a small number of important internet-related global topics. At the end of the forum, a report, and possibly recommendations for action will be issued.

The first day is likely to be taken up with outlining the problem and people's varied solutions to it. The second day will comprise separate working groups decided on the basis of the first day's presentations. These working groups will then decide the best course of action in time for the third day, when any resulting disagreements or clashes will be ironed out, and final consensus built.

What to discuss?

There are several vital issues where there remains significant disagreement.

The biggest is over what should actually be discussed at the forum. A large number of governments, and business, wish to see the forum used to discuss problems where there is a chance for international agreement.

This group pushed forward three main topics that would be suitable: spam, cybercrime and multi-lingualism.

A second, smaller group of governments and academics wish to ensure more controversial arguments - namely those over US government control of the internet, plus the role of existing internet bodies such as ICANN and IANA - are heard.

And a third group, built from across all sectors, keep pushing the lost issues of the internet: namely, access in poorer countries, and expanding the knowledge and physical infrastructure in these countries.

The eventual route out of the impasse, largely the creation of Nitin Desai, was to create a "programme committee" made up of representatives from government, private and civil society that would meet and decided the main topics.

People have been given until the end of February to make their proposals, after which Desai and secretariat Markus Kummer will summarise the results and make recommendations to Kofi Annan on how to form the committee.

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