March 26, 2004 4:00 AM PST

United Nations ponders Net's future

UNITED NATIONS--The United Nations wants a big piece of the Internet.

At a summit here this week, delegates from around the world gathered to take a preliminary step toward U.N. involvement in some of the areas that are bedeviling Internet users and governments alike, including spam, network security, privacy and the regulation of the technical underpinnings that control the sprawling global network.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan set the tone in a speech Thursday, criticizing the current system through which Internet standards are set and domain names are handled, a process currently dominated by the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan. Such structures "must be made accessible and responsive to the needs of all the world's people," Annan said.


What's new:
The United Nations for the first time is taking a serious look at increasing its influence on the way the Internet runs, from technical standards to domain names to privacy and spam.

Bottom line:
Although the U.N. process is still in its early stages, the result could dramatically reshape the way the Internet is run and put an end to some of the informal, collaborative processes that exist today.

More stories on this topic

On Friday, the summit will hear recommendations from five different U.N. working groups on topics including everything from domain names to root server operation to free speech and intellectual property to privacy.

Although the U.N. process is still in its early stages, the result could dramatically reshape the way the Internet is run and put an end to some of the informal, collaborative processes that exist today. The master "root servers" that serve up addresses for country codes and all other top-level domains, for instance, are operated in part by volunteers instead of through a U.N.-style apparatus.

Dozens of delegates from developing nations echoed Annan's remarks throughout the rest of the day, arguing that their governments do not have a voice in the way the Internet is operated and that more money and investment from richer nations is the only way to end the so-called digital divide. Khalid Saeed, the secretary of Pakistan's Ministry of Information Technology, said his country must "play an active role in all layers" of organizations that control the operation of the modern Internet.

Greater U.N. involvement is a direct threat to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which the Clinton administration created six years ago to oversee address allocation and top-level domains. While ICANN has attempted to be international in scope through diversity in board members and meeting locations, delegates have viewed the California-based nonprofit as too closely allied with the wealthier countries.

"Engineers have a saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'"
--Vint Cerf, ICANN chair
"There are many existing players in the Internet space," ICANN Chair Vint Cerf said at the summit. "We should build on the foundation that they have created. Engineers have a saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'"

Backing ICANN are groups such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the U.S. Commerce Department, which fear that greater U.N. involvement will unleash the world's most extensive bureaucracy on the Internet and stifle innovation online. In a paper distributed at the summit, the ICC took issue with the popular term Internet governance, saying it "implies that there is a need for the Internet to be governed in some way, a view that ICC does not support."

A Bush administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity told CNET that the administration was steadfastly opposed to the United Nations' plans, which are still preliminary but are expected to be formalized in a report to Annan in 2005.

Long-simmering resentments
Although ICANN is the most visible target, the summit also highlighted long-simmering resentments that developing countries have harbored against their wealthier counterparts. Because of decisions made during the early days of the Internet, for instance, China has been allocated only 9 million global Internet addresses, less than Stanford University's total of 17 million or IBM's total of 33 million. Over the next few years, however, adoption of IPv6 will eliminate these disparities.

IMAGE TEXT HERE In addition, the U.S. federal government retains control over key aspects of the Internet's domain name and addressing structure through its unique agreements with ICANN and VeriSign, which runs the master .com and .net database. Those agreements are a legacy of the days when the Internet was a U.S. government-funded project, but they nevertheless rankle--and worry--other countries.

Many delegates to the Global Forum on Internet Governance appeared to favor the International Telecommunication Union, a U.N. agency, taking over at least part of ICANN's functions. "We don't have to create any new organizations," said Alain le Gourrierec, ambassador from France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "We don't have to create any new agencies. The U.N. exists for this reason. The main point is to make sure the developing countries are part of this movement to make the Internet part of society."

Brazil's delegate to the summit, which drew about 380 attendees, went further, saying the Internet is "a vital international public utility, the management of which should not only take into account the interests of a few countries...a few stakeholders."

The few representatives of Internet technical bodies, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), who participated in the summit were outnumbered but emphatic.

IMAGE TEXT HERE "The IETF has an extremely open process," said IETF Chair Harald Alvestrand. The group, which sets most of the standards that keep the Internet working, is "a place where stakeholders come together...Make sure when you talk about Internet governance, you're talking about things that really need governing."

"We're in danger of overregulating," not underregulating, said Karl Auerbach, a former ICANN board member and a veteran Internet engineer.

A laundry list
Most delegates used Thursday's summit to dress up their arguments in high-minded rhetoric about democracy and equality, but one recurring theme was a bit more practical: money. Delegates from poorer countries repeatedly cited the digital divide, arguing that it was widening, not narrowing, and that more foreign aid and investments from corporations would be vital over the next decade.

As far back as 1999, a U.N. agency proposed taxing all e-mail messages to pay for development aid. "There is an urgent need to find the resources to fund the global communications revolution to ensure that it is truly global," the 1999 report said. "The costs for users would be negligible: Sending 100 e-mails a day, each containing a 10-kilobyte document (a very long one), would raise a tax of just 1 cent."

Because of decisions made during the early days of the Internet, China has been allocated only 9 million global Internet addresses, less than Stanford University's total of 17 million or IBM's total of 33 million.
The United Nations hastily backed away from that proposal, however, after prominent members of the U.S. Congress slammed it as a "bureaucracy looking to get its greedy mitts on the Internet through new taxes."

Thursday's discussion was so far-ranging, veering from privacy to spam to ICANN to foreign aid, that it was often unclear where it was heading.

Milton Mueller, a professor at Syracuse University, predicts that the U.N. delegates will end up focusing on the areas they could reasonably influence. "The only things they'll be able to get their hands on is ICANN and the Internet interconnection issue," Mueller said. "They're going to gravitate toward areas where they can actually do something."

Cuba's delegate, Juan Fernandez, was busy lobbying for help with the so-called interconnection problem. Fernandez, from Cuba's Ministry of Informatics and Communications, complained that it was unfair for poorer countries to have to pay such high Internet bills--currently, whoever connects pays for the traffic, and more Cubans browse American Web sites than the other way around.

"This is a very important issue to be considered in all the Internet backbone discussions," Fernandez said. "This topic is important enough to deserve the attention of all those who are here."


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Cuba prohibit access to the internet to its citizens
Cuba prohibit access to the internet to its citizens

What is this Cuba's Ministry of Informatics and Communications is complaining about? In Cuba the internet is illegal only a few people can go on the net. Last year 27 independent journalists were incarcerated to up to 20 years in prison for using the internet to "aiming to overthrow the Cuban revolution".

This guy joking? Instead of him complaining we should be asking him why is illegal to use the internet in Cuba

Please read this article bellow taken from: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

Reporters Without Borders seeks meeting with Marco Tronchetti Provera, Chairman of Telecom Italia's board of directors
Reporters Without Borders has asked to meet the chairman of Telecom Italia's board of governors about the implications of the company's ties with Cuban telecommunications operator ETECSA, that has been made responsible for Internet censorship.
"We would like to meet you to discuss together the problems arising from your investment in Cuban telecommunications", the international press freedom organisation said in a 25 March 2004 letter to Marco Tronchetti Provera.
"We believe that your company should broach the issue with ETECSA and the Cuban government to bring an end to relentless censorship of the Net in Cuba and so that 27 journalists jailed in March 2003, accused in particular of putting the Internet to "counter-revolutionary" use, can be released."
The vast majority of Cubans are banned from using the Internet. In Fidel Castro's Cuba only those with explicit permission can access the Net. The ban is all the more severe because it is illegal to possess computer equipment. The cybercafés are reserved for the use of tourists and are under very strict control.
In March 2003 the Cuban regime launched a wave of arrests during which 27 independent journalists were imprisoned. Among them was poet and journalist Raúl Rivero. The charge sheet against him explicitly cited his work with an Internet site "aiming to overthrow the Cuban revolution". Most of the sentences of the 27 who were imprisoned referred to their use of the Internet : posting articles about foreign online publications or simply visiting forbidden sites.
Tens of thousands of Cubans however continue to pirate the ETECSA telephone network to access the Web. These illegal connections to the Internet are a window of freedom in a country where no independent media is tolerated.
In December 2003, the Cuban authorities announced that they would track down these "pirate" users. A government decree instructed ETECSA "to use all necessary technical means to detect and block access to the Internet" for unauthorised people. To put it bluntly, the Cuban authorities demand that your partner company monitors the Internet and helps police track down Cuban Internet-users who are getting round the official ban. The telecommunications operator thus becomes a party to the repression of the Internet. This decree moreover could lead to a new wave of arrests, this time against Cuban Internet "pirates".
As shareholders of 29,3% of ETECSA, which has a monopoly on Cuban Internet, Telecom Italia is directly involved with the company's actions.

more news: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
UN Control of the Internet??? Ha!
Brilliant! Let the UN take over the domain name registry. What a terrific idea! Why didn't somebody think of this sooner?

Who do we think should chair the newly-formed "Committee on Internet Affairs"??? (Paid for, of course, with US funds)

Let's run through the list, shall we?

1. The US - No, that's who we're trying to take this away from, remember?

2. France - Well, I think it would be a safe bet to say that "" would be removed quite swiftly.

3. China - Hmmm. That'd be interesting. I really do like reading in the morning, oh well, I guess we'll all have to live with, the Chinese government-run news firm because we wouldn't be able to access any free media ever again.

4. Iran - Hey? Why shouldn't they be allowed to chair the Internet Commission? They were allowed to chair the commissions on Weapons of Mass Destruction! Is too un-Islamic for the clerics? If it is, it'd need to be taken down.

5. The EU - I know that they're not an UN member (but they should be, face it people, the EU is a country) but let's be hypothetical. I know that the IRS has failed in trying to draw blood from a stone, but maybe the European Commission would find a way to fine the internet for being a monopoly! Now THAT would be something.
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How to ruin the internet
The UN ruins almost everything it gets its hands on. There's almost nothing that they've touched that they haven't completely destroyed or made worse. Kofi and his simpering lick-spittles can sod off first if he thinks people will stand by and let him bureaucratize the internet. What's he afraid of? That he no longer had control of the exchange of information or editors to put the proper "spin" on information. I usually dismiss as paranoid people who see the UN as coniving to create a global dictatorship, but if there ever was a reason for their forcible expulsion from the country, their attempt to take over the internet, definitely is it.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
IP Addresses - Myth vs Reality
It's very strange that although IP addresses barely rated a mention in New York, this journalist has chosen to raise the topic, and dig up some very outdated misconceptions about China vs USA.

In such cases I feel obliged to issue a correction.

The fact is that there was never any division of IP addresses among countries. Addresses have always been allocated wherever there is a demand, and naturally during the early Internet years, this demand occurred in developed countries (especially USA).

Further, early allocation policies were lax in the extreme, allowing huge address blocks to be allocated to relatively small needs. This was due not to conscious design, but simply to the lack of any expectation that the net would grow to today's size.

Today's allocation system, involving Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) has operated for over 10 years, and has introduced demonstrable fairness and responsibility into the prior system.

Address allocations today are done much more carefully, but addresses are still readily available for any demonstrated need as defined by a set of uniform public policies. Indeed, China is a leading recipient of IP addresses today, and the total allocations to China now exceed 45 million addresses. The figure of 9 million is at least 3 years old.

If anybody would like more information on these issues, I and other RIR personnel are more than happy to assist. I issue this invitation especially to journalists and editors, who have a responsibility to check their facts before going to press.

Paul Wilson
Director General
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
IP Addresses - Myth vs Reality
As Paul notes, IP addresses are not delegated to countries. At the same time, as part of an attempt to understand how many addresses we will need to bring the populations of various countries online, I have put together a spreadsheet from RIR data showing a geo-political breakdown. This was submitted as part of the documentation for the UN summit, and is posted at:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

The document shows how many addresses are required using the current HD-ratio (RFC 3194) metrics, to provide just one address shared by 3 people, with a goal that 20% of the population for each country would then have access.

It needs to be noted that I am still working with the RIR's and IANA to resolve a few remaining inconsistencies in the raw data, and that allocations are a continuing process. This means the numbers presented are subject to change without notice.

Tony Hain
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Succinctly, screw the Third World, screw Kofi Annan and screw the UN. They are all a bunch of aspirant tyrants who want to crush the free flow of information. The Net should be wide open and the incompetent, corrupt UN, dominated by Third World dictatorships, should be kept out of the process. "Developing nations," my ass!
Posted by jwgriffith (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.