The Voice of e-Commerce

Friday, November 03, 2006

Internet Governance: Game On. I’ve never thought of United Nations as particularly effective, but I have to admit they know something about organizing an international meeting of multiple stakeholders to facilitate consensus through a multilingual bottom-up dialogue. That is, these UN regulars know how to voice indignations and raise expectations. Generating action and delivering results is another thing entirely. Still, this first meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) showed me that the UN intends to have a role in managing the Internet, so those of us in the private sector and ICANN had better be on-guard. The buzz rising from the floor included calls for financial assistance and more multi-national management of the Internet Domain Name System (DNS). Cuba’s representative gave an evocative account of economic hardships in his country, reminding everyone that that Internet access is up a bit higher on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Cuba blamed the 50-year U.S. embargo for its anemic economy, and demanded that the developed world “share the costs” of building Cuba’s capacity to use the Internet. Iran’s delegate dulled our senses with long diatribes against the developed world, calling for an “equitable distribution of resources” to help more Iranians access the Internet. I can’t wait to see Iran’s plan for “equitable distribution” of their oil and gas reserves, too. To help these developing nations build Internet capacity, the Diplo Foundation suggested a $10 tax on every domain name registration. Presumably, the world would ask ICANN and its registries and registrars to collect this tax, a responsibility that none would welcome warmly. Iran was joined by Brazil, Cuba, and others in demanding that IGF explore a new, multi-national body to take over management of the DNS. At one workshop, the Third World Network called ICANN’s management “illegitimate” and complained that root zone oversight allows a “single point of abuse.” Their solution is to create alternate roots, a plan deemed unworkable by experienced DNS operators. To reduce the anguish over U.S. oversight of the DNS, Marilyn Cade described a plan to add transparency and multi-national review to ICANN processes for changing top level domain delegation. But the anti-ICANN crowd here is against leaving any DNS control in the hands of the private sector or U.S. government. On a more positive note, there was broad demand for multiple language support in top-level domain names. ICANN was criticized about the lack of Internationalized Domain Names (IDN), so I expect we’ll see some new urgency about this when ICANN meets in Brazil next month. This first IGF meeting was more about rhetoric than results, but I get the clear impression that this United Nations machine is just warming-up for a long-term battle over Internet Governance. They’re keen to relieve the private sector of its management role, but the UN has forgotten that the private sector built every aspect of Internet infrastructure that’s worth managing.

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