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Internet Governance

Free Speech and Internet Governance16:26, March 5, 2011

Image of the Al Jazeera newsroom in Doha, Qatar

Listening in on conversations on the Stockholm subway, it appears that Arabian revolts of 2011 will be for Al Jazeera what the first Gulf war was for CNN. Suddenly Al Jazeera is a household name, repeatedly referred to by other media outlets and viewed directly by thousands of others through a variety of channels.

And it should not be forgotten that it’s also symbiotic relationship between the world and the people who gets to tell its story. It goes both ways. Just like CNN made the first Gulf war into the type of conflict it became, it is indeed very difficult to see where Al Jazeera end and begin in the recent upheavals. The pan-Arabic protest movements owe a lot to the efficient distribution of news between different parts of the world. Often social media in particular, and the Internet in general, are given a lot of the credit for this (and rightly so!) but the power of television should not be forgotten.

The International Audience
I believe that Al Jazeera’s underdog position and difficulty getting distribution by cable networks, especially in the United States, made them go back to the drawing board to find alternative channels. The result has been to have a great Internet presence, with live-feeds available for viewing on computers and mobile devices. In fact, I find myself tuning into Al Jazeera’s app ever so often for a quick update.

I can only speculate into the reasons for why they seem to gain explosive growth. Primarily, of course, there is the indisputable fact that Al Jazeera’s reporting is second-to-none. With western media houses downsizing it’s not uncommon for them to have only one reporter covering the whole of Africa, for example. Or the entire Middle East. It goes without saying that both coverage and depth will suffer as a result. But, there might also be other, subtler, reasons. At least some people surely appreciate the fresh perspective and the — often quite blatant – western centric worldview that permeate the outlets such as CNN.

Duh, Doha! Protests Heading Here?
With protests spreading like wildfire throughout the Arab world, the inevitable question is what would happen if the revolt would spread to Al Jazeera’s native Qatar. Historically, the TV channel has enjoyed unparalleled freedoms to act independently – compared to the standard in the region, that is. It’s not really saying much, considering.

As rulers topple and falls on top of each other in nearby countries, even Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is bound to be at least a little edgy; however liberal he is, he is far from an elected leader. Would he allow for the channel to cover protests in the same way they did in Tunis or Egypt?

The Emir has given Al Jazeera a very long leech in the past, and even though he is considered a liberal leader, with his eyes set on reforming the status quo, somewhere in the sand there is a red line.

Like in many countries (insert standard caveat that the West is also doing it) the Internet is filtered in Qatar. Mostly the filter is designed to block pornography and alternative critical views on Islam, but a lot of other information is also difficult to access, either by design or mistake. To add insult to injury, another category that is quite tightly regulated is access to censorship circumvention tools, in the likes of Psiphon, TOR and other proxy servers.

One thing that always worries me is state control over central data exchanges, and Qatar, though its national telecommunications company Qtel, is no different.

By centralizing exchange though a single point there’s always the temptation to tamper with the data, simply because it’s easy to do it. Pulling the plug on the Internet is infinitely harder if there’s a plethora of exchanges, each operating independently of one another. If pushed into a corner, would the Emir use his power to further limit free expression? It’s hardly inconceivable. Would he flick the kill-switch? Probably not. Qatar is a huge economy, with the highest GDP per capita on the planet, and such a country would have a meltdown in a matter of hours following a complete disruption of communications.

Avoiding the FUD
Al Jazeera has matured into a solid product and they’ve proven themselves over and over again in the last 15 years. In the last months their influence have been pivotal the development of a whole region. As with any news organization its motives and loyalties can be questioned – and they should be! Just like we discuss media centralization and ownership in the western sphere. That discussion should not however, spread fear, uncertainty and doubt on whether or not Al Jazeera is a legitimate player in a globalized world.

It only took a few revolutions to prove it.

Internet Governance02:07, November 29, 2010

Six years ago, almost to the day, I blogged about why it’d probably be a good idea to allow the UN to assert more control over the Internets infrastructure. Specifically, the post was about the DNS system, the technology that handles address translation. Time has caught up, it seems.

The other day, some 70 sites were taken offline, after the US government seized the domains and replaced the site with a blockpage (of the likes I’ve seen before – in Iran). Among the seized domains are mostly sites trading in counterfeit designer goods, but also some torrent sites.

“ICE office of Homeland Security Investigations executed court-ordered seizure warrants against a number of domain names,” said Cori W. Bassett, a spokeswoman for ICE, quoted by the New York Times.

My reservation, back then six years ago, was that handing over power to the UN would also, in effect, give some influence over the Internet to undemocratic countries with a censorship agenda. I thought that even though unilateral control by the US is not perhaps the best way, at least it had proven stable and free for a long period of time. It appears, six years down the line, I was wrong.

I’m thinking about perhaps starting a pool. How long do you think it’ll take before they seize the domains of, say, Wikileaks? Maybe I’m being cynical, but I think the DHS fear them more than they do of the (admittedly very scary) prospect of Smalltown USA being flooded with cheap designer knockoffs.

Now for the good news: being the Hydra it is, the Internet will probably heal. Or split, depending how you see it. Nerds control the world now, and a group called Telecomix has already started to work on an alternative DNS system.

Ping: (DN)

Internet Governance17:38, October 7, 2010


Oliver Johnson, in his article Net Neutrality – The Phony War, published in this week’s CircleID, has a deterministic view on why net neutrality is never going to be achieved. It is, he argues, just a mirage even today. Net neutrality can never be achieved, simply because it is not in the interest of the markets. The problem, he says, is that the ISPs and cable companies must generate growth. This far, growth has been maintained by selling more and more connections. However, as the number of households is finite, that growth is impossible to retain. The only route left then is segmentation. His argument is self-referring.

Stability just isn’t sexy enough. If you want your share price to increase then you have to demonstrate revenue and preferably margin growth.

For whom is the “market”?
We have to stop talking about the market as an absolute. What we call a market is not as inescapable as gravity. It is not a law of nature. Without going too much into specifics, it’s clear that a capitalist market works well – most of the time. There are however, many occasions where it doesn’t work, of perform badly. Exactly where we draw the line depends on where you are in the world: most of Europe, for example, have quite a different view than the US on basic health services. But in all societies, regardless of country, there is a line.

Politicians, step up!
It is the responsibility of the politicians to oversee the market so that society reaps the maximum amount of benefits from it. I wonder if there’s any (developed) country where fire services are privatized, just to name one? When a house is on fire, it’s an issue for the whole community – not just the owner of the house.

History shows that cable companies are not very good at creating, what Mr. Johnson calls, value-added services. In fact, to put it bluntly, they suck at it. The reason the Internet grew, and won over competing closed services (and there were many: The Microsoft Network, CompuServe, AOL to name but a few) 15 years ago was because infrastructure and content is two very, very different breeds of horses.

Focus on what you do best. If companies who build roads would start making cars, or build amusement parks where people could go using the company’s roads in the company’s cars, most would agree that it was a serious case of hubris. Even if it made their shareholders disappointed.

Freedom to invent
Mr. Johnson speaks of a market. But there are others markets. Net neutrality guarantees that there’s a market of competing services on the internet. ISPs have one job to do: deliver bits. They might not like that, but really, that’s what they’re good at. Please, keep your fingers out of the other jars!

Without free competition on the internet market – if there was no net neutrality ten years ago, none of the services we use and love today would have existed. Not Google. Not Facebook. Not Flickr. Not Twitter. Kiva? Delicious? Yahoo? No! Definitely not The Pirate Bay or Torrentreactor and thus not Spotify or Pandora! I could go on. What we would have, in that alternate reality, is News Corp, Time Warner and Disney. In this universe Barak Obama wouldn’t be president of the United States!

I’m left with the feeling that Mr. Johnson is willing to sacrifice what could be the most important infrastructural achievement since the construction of a nationwide road network, all to keep shareholders in a few major cable companies happy. That’s outrageous.

Who is Topic Point?
It seems his argument is not only self-referring but also self-serving. It might be also interesting to note the Oliver Johnson is the CEO of Point Topic, a company that makes a living giving advice to broadband carriers.

Internet Governance03:56, March 7, 2007

We all know that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a bureaucratic organization, but reading this post from a (now former) member of the At Large Advisory Commitee (ALAC), the group charged with representing the interests of ordinary Internet users within ICANN, shows us just how complex it really is. John Levine writes:

I thought hard about what I might accomplish if I spent several more years on the ALAC. Maybe we could get retail domain name prices to be $10.50 rather than $11 […] or get ICANN to fix the loophole that permits domain tasting. […] Or we might not. In the big picture, how much effort is this all worth? Not much. Certainly not almost a month each year.

Personally, I think ICANN’s work is invaluable to the decentralized structure of the Internet. There have been much ado about that the UN should get more control over the organization, but I’ve been hesitant to agree considering that some countries, who would then have some control over the Internet, can be said to have a less-than-perfect track record when it comes to protecting openness and free speech. However, this post by John Levine worries me also. What happens if ICANN gets so complex and opaque that no – or very few – idealists get their hands dirty? If the representatives with the stamina to go on are all paid lobbyists, lawyers and trade mark representatives?

Recommended reading for anyone interested in a inside report on internet governance. Read the full post at John Levine’s blog (also published on Circle ID).

Internet Governance18:42, April 16, 2005

November is just around the corner, and with it the WSIS meeting in Tunis. At the end of PrepCom II a resource was created to help people communicate and share information between the PrepComs and the Summit.

The World Summit on the Information Society Civil Society Meeting Point is the host of several interesting mailing lists divided into caucuses and working groups.

Internet Governance01:33, April 11, 2005

In their publication What to do About ICANN: A Proposal for Structural Reform (PDF), the Internet Governance Project suggests some changes to the organization of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The organizations close ties to the US government is in focus. The background is the upcoming WSIS-conference, and the three suggestions are very concrete and certainly both feasible and good.

Three structural reforms are proposed: 1 Create an international oversight body to replace US oversight of ICANN and ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee; 2 restore ICANN’s global Board elections; 3 Give ccTLD managers and Internet Protocol address users a choice of governance arrangements by sharing responsibility for the Internet root zone between ICANN and the ITU.

However, the report does not (specifically) address the difficulties with influence from non-democratic governments. This is a delicate issue. Should repressive governments be given a vote in these issues? Will citizens in countries with limited or no freedom of speech be better or worse off, if control over the Internet is handed to the UN? That’s the real question.

They do however suggest a peer-to-peer model where the International Telecommunications Union is given their own IPv6 address blocks and acts as a parallel registrar to ICANN, in about the same way as many other Western democracies divide power into different branches.

Internet Governance16:04, February 23, 2005

The UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) has released a report – mainly focusing on procedural issues – about its progress thus far. The final meeting, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), will be held in Tunis in December. What is especially interesting in this report, is perhaps the group’s definitions and key issues.

Internet Governance and Technologies02:15, January 4, 2005

In a very interesting article the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN), reports something often forgotten by national crisis management centers: the help organizations are often exclusively focusing on issues relating to the grieving process of adults, whilst neglecting the need of the younger population.

The older generation find information though traditional channels; television, radio and newspapers. Kids however, receive a lot of information though the Internet, and they retreat to their regular hangouts even during tough times. And, considering how hard Sweden has been struck by the tsunami disaster – these are definitely tough times.

One place where they go is the Swedish online community Lunarstorm, with an incredible reach of 80% of Swedes between the ages of 18-to-25. (The figure is probably about the same, if not even higher, for kids between the ages of 13-to-17.)

Lunarstorm, realizing the crucial need for help, have involved around 20 priests and other volunteer personnel who are working around the clock to meet young people on their own turf: online.

The issues can be everything from comforting someone who has lost a friend, to more concrete and practical things like starting charities and how to volunteer to help.

Save the Children, Unicef and the Red Cross, have understood that this is an important channel, says Johan Forsberg, Lunarstorm’s information officer. He only wish that the Swedish government, particularly prime minister G?ran Persson and foreign minister Laila Frievalds, would wake up and realize it too. They’re needed here, he says.

When you think about it, this is not a very unexpected development. The Internet has integrated into people’s lives in all other aspects of life, so why would this be different? And, as usual it’s the kids that are forgotten by authorities: they’re busy speaking adultish about adult things with other adults.

I believe that using the Internet for these kinds of things can be very helpful, on a personal level. Sharing thoughts, fears and sorrow with other who feel the same way as yourself can be liberating and helpful. However, to avoid getting stuck in vicious thoughts, it’s also important that there is adults, preferably professionals, present in such discussions.

It seems to me that Lunarstorm are doing a great job, with whatever limited means they can muster. So, G?ran Persson – what are you waiting for? Wake up, smell the coffee and go answer some real questions from your future constituency.

Internet Governance19:41, December 15, 2004

News stories on Internet Governance are few and very far between. After I wrote a short posting the other week about the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance, I’ve kept my eyes open for any follow-ups in the mainstream media. At lease to my knowledge, there was none.

Rebecca MacKinnon writes an excellent post on this black hole, and remind the readers that another important meeting; part two of WSIS, will be held in Tunis in less than a year from now. Will it be the bloggers who cover it, or will mainstream media be there too?

The question is why these matter have such low priority in the news output? The problem, I believe, is that it’s of only academic interest for us in the west. At some level, we can rely on our societies to provide us with access to the Internet and guarantee our freedom of speech – so we sleep well at night knowing that someone is looking out for us. This is of course not the case globally.

Internet Governance02:12, December 10, 2004

Berkman Center at Harvard Law School is hosting a conference called Internet + Society 2004: Votes, Bits and Bytes between the 9th and 11th of December (I know I’m a day late posting this – but is the glass half-empty or half-full?) The conference will take a sceptical look at the Internet’s effect on politics and how it might influence society.

Amongst other things, on Friday morning there is a panel discussion on citizenship that looks particularly interesting, and will deal with issues around technologies’ impact on participatory democracy and global citizenship. One of the panellists will be Hossein Derakhshan (aka Hoder), an Iranian blogger.

Other areas that will be discussed in the coming two days are business and – of course – what impact the Internet had on the 2004 US presidential election.

And no, I’m afraid I’m not there either – but I will sure follow the conference on their webcast. …Unless nobody’s got a plane ticket to spare, that is?

Internet Governance and Technologies03:09, December 7, 2004

In several articles I’ve briefly commented on the fact that there is a problem – from a democratic point-of-view – with how Internet access is being sold to consumers today. The technology used does not encourage what I believe is promoting the fundamental uniqueness of computer mediated distribution. This article is an attempt to elaborate on the subject – hopefully, so that even non-geeks can grasp at least some of it.

Is There a Problem With Technology?
A truism of network-building is that the most difficult part of offering high speed internet is not building the backbone, but getting transporting the signals the last two kilometers from the provider and into the homes of consumers.

Today, broadband Internet connectivity is sold to consumers in a few basic flavors: ADSL, Cable and fiber. Fiber is rare, and globally the real competition is between ADSL and Cable – what method is most common depends on what country you look at. In the US for example, cable access is more common than ADSL while in Sweden it’s the other way around.

ADSL, as the most common variant of xDSL-technologies are called, is in theory a superb way of hooking people up to the Internet. It allows for telco’s to connect their telephone station to the backbone, and then use the existing copper wire to reach in to peoples homes. This means no modifications to the building, nor to each and every apartment. It’s simply plug-and-play from the consumers point-of-view. (Today, ADSL also comes in two modified (and thus faster) versions: ADSL2 and ADSL2+. These will be treated synonymously with ADSL in this article.)

Cable is also cheap because the infrastructure is (mostly) already there. The medium used is the coax cables that ordinarily carry television broadcasts.

Fiber, on the other hand, is extremely fast and future proof, but seldom a realistic possibility. Each apartment building needs to be directly hooked up with dedicated fiber cables, routers have to be installed in the basement, and ethernet network cables be installed in every apartment. In effect, very few households have fiber-access, in comparison to ADSL and cable.

Now to the design flaw: ADSL and cable is asymmetrical, a fancy word for saying that the speed at which you can send data and the speed you can receive data, is not the same. For example, personally I have a connection that is called 8/1 – in other words, I can receive at 8 megabit per second (mbps) and transmit at 1 mbps.

In Sweden, the country I’m for obvious reasons most acquainted with, the ISP’s are franticly competing to offer high speeds at very low cost using ADSL-technology. Last I checked, 24 mbps cost SEK 399/month (about US$60/month) from Bredbandsbolaget. So, what’s bad about that? Well, nothing if you don’t consider that the connection they’re talking about is a 24/1 mbps service – offering only 1 mbps of upload.

Why Is Up-Speed Important?
What separates the Internet from other media is that the audiences are active in participating as senders – just not being passive recipients. Radio, television and print media – they’ve all been a way for consumers to receive, but there was no way to transmit or respond to the messages. Networking changed all that, and I dare to say that this reason alone is the reason why the Internet is so extremely popular. All the “killer-apps” we’ve seen is because of a feedback channel; e-mail, Internet banking – even simple web browsing is interactive. But what also changed was that everyone could become a sender in a more revolutionizing way – setting up homepages and transmit material in a way that more resembled newspapers than anything else. (Remember the homepage-craze in 1995? Everyone had one, though nobody admits it today.)

Without the decentralized structure of the Internet – that anybody could publish content anywhere – there’d be no Internet. Not by definition, not in practice. The closed computer networks that attracted consumers 15 years ago (most notably America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy) died or were forced to become open systems within about five seconds after the Internet gained momentum. There simply was no way a single company could envision or create such the diversity of services offered on the Internet. (Some wise-guy will comment that it had to do with availability of pornography – but even so it does not contradict my theory. It still had to do with people being able to broadcast material, whether its pictures of last years Christmas celebration with the family or pictures of people with absolutely no costumes on.)

So, I argue that the reason for the Internets success is that it allowed people to express themselves. And for that an uplink channel is needed. A concrete example of what I mean is this very blog you are reading now. It’s hosted on a crappy second-hand computer I bought for SEK 1000 (about US$140) and is standing in a closet in my apartment. Using the Internet and its inherent channel to transmit information I’ve transformed a closet into a broadcasting device with a (potentially) global audience.

My fear, however, is that the possibility of transmitting is being effectively removed by current standards, endorsed by the owners of the networks. Why you ask? Because of a flawed technology, coupled with greed from the ISP’s to make money with content services.

Is There a Problem With the Companies?
For a capitalist, the ultimate goal is consumer addiction. This is a wet dream for them because nothing is as good as a costumer that returns again and again – without money having to be spent on persuading him to do so. Short of getting people addicted by their own free will, they can at least take every precaution that people don’t have a choice.

Thus, companies strive – in one way or another – towards creating virtual monopolies. They want to have an exclusive channel into your brain without the hassle of competition. For this reason, many media companies have merged in the last decades, to create huge conglomerates that, for example, control the whole chain of production, distribution and advertisement of a movie. It makes sense to them. Very much sense, actually. Not only do they produce the movie, but also they can make absolutely sure you see it, whether you want to or not.

So what on earth has this got to do with broadband Internet? Well, Time Warner owns Road Runner, one of the biggest providers in the US, for example. All Internet service providers, trying to maximize income, see huge possibilities in controlling content – not setting it free.

The asymmetric model being built into technology fits the companies perfectly, since they want passive consumers who are in need of content. Even though there are alternative technologies, such as VSDL, capable of offering symmetric bandwidth, ISP’s often chose not to pursuit them, and where they existed have discontinued them – at least in Sweden.

A recent Swedish example can illustrate my point. As the available bandwidth to the consumer increase so does the opportunities to send services their way. IP-telephony (or VOIP) has been around for a while, and for consumers it is a fantastic way to lower their cost for national and international telephony. Since they already have the bandwidth they can just sign up to any service and make really cheap phone calls. Well, for customers of Bredbandsbolaget it’s not quite that easy. Since they offer their own VOIP-service and do not wish to have competition, they’ve simply blocked the use of other services, and thus limiting the bits allowed to freely pass through the line for which the consumer is paying.

The same pattern is repeated with the launch of broadband broadcasted television that was launched by Bredbandsbolaget in cooperation with Viasat – Sweden’s largest satellite-TV owner. At the cost of 5 Mbps and a mere SEK 299/month you get 27 tv-channels blasted right into your TV. (What they fail to mention is that it’s just as expensive as their non-broadband packet, and then you get to keep your 5 Mbps – why can’t really see the use just yet?)

Instead of separating the infrastructure from the content, the two are increasingly intertwined. The promise of broadband distribution is that you should be able to buy television, in the form of zeroes and ones, from just about anybody. Not just repackaging an old service digitally and selling to you again. What this leaves us with is the monopolies the cable companies created in the 80’s – effectively controlling what was broadcasted to the homes. They owned the cables and operated the service. Where are the competition were did my free choice go?

The Future of the Network
The problem with this approach is that it’s counter-productive for the prosperity of the Internet as a growing community. Again, consider what the lessons from the early 90’s taught us – closed networks perish because they are not really networks of independent nodes but a controlled and centralized environment. I repeat what I said above: Without the decentralized structure of the Internet – that anybody could publish content anywhere – there’d be no Internet. Not by definition, not in practice.

I believe that in order to satisfy the increasing demands of bandwidth, as services get more complex and more mission-critical, P2P-technology (also called peer-to-peer) will become a vital part of the distribution chain. And I’m not talking about Napster or eDonkey but about a transparent system that distribute content by letting the computers organize themselves to minimize strain on the network and enable lightning-fast transfers. The business models of copyright holders and content providers will have to adjust to such a system in order for the companies to survive (…but that’s another article).

Already today there are systems, based on P2P, that allow people to download media content, released under a less restrictive license. Torrentocracy is one of them that I mentioned in an article just the other day.

Even the, usually pretty business-conservative paper, The Economist admits (subscription walled) that utilizing P2P-technology is a natural development and would enable faster, better and more fault-redundant services to the consumers. Creating a hub-and-spokes-network as what largely done today is not ideal, they say.

The problem is that P2P will only work if the nodes in the network are symmetrically hooked-up. If users consume (receive) faster that they produce (send) the scheme will fail, since P2P is mathematically a zero-sum game. By definition, every bit you download has to be uploaded by someone else.

Effects for Democracy
To speak bluntly; most companies that sell Internet capacity to you today does not want you to distribute content – they’d much rather sell it to you themselves. They want you to be passive because that gives them opportunity to sell you things, while not changing their tried-and-tested business-model. Content owners need to thoroughly revise their business model for a digital age, where scarcity is no longer determining the value of commodities. Bits are not atoms.

I fear continuing on this path of turning the Internet to yet another place where you passively consume (televised) messages will indeed hurt the Internets inherently democratic effects of allowing its participants to have a voice. P2P could enable ordinary citizens to distribute their own content, much like what bloggers all over the world are doing with ideas right now. Participation is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy, and the mainstream media have failed to be inclusive enough – by any standard.

The question is of course if governments should regulate Internet connectivity and treat it like a public commodity. Critics to such an idea usually claim that the Internets success is to a great deal the story of entrepreneurs and that therefore it’d be wrong to regulate. However, one should also keep in mind that the Internet is the result of millions of dollars spent on research – funded by the US government. So, maybe we should cut the governments some slack? Besides, nobody at their right mind is talking about expropriation of the Internet, just some guidelines for what is acceptable behavior. Like what FCC in the US (and PTS in Sweden) do for telecommunications.

Somebody said that we often overestimate the progress that will be made in two years, but underestimate what will happen in ten. To me, that is both good and bad news given this scenario. For one, the technologies we see today are not what are going to be still here in ten years. Bandwidth demand will continue to increase, and I’d expect them to level out at about 1 Gbps per household (I’m not kidding). However, one should still be mindful of the things I’ve explored in this article. Structures and patterns of behavior are determined at an early stage, even though unsymmetric technologies get replaced, we might have gotten used to just downloading the last 40 seasons of Friends from our old buddy the cable company.

(Thanks to Mark for a great discussion on the matter.)

Internet Governance00:05, November 23, 2004

Today, the 23rd of November, the battle for control over the internet moves to Geneva, when the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) starts.

The problem goes a little something like this; unlike the international telephone system that is co-ordinated by a UN agency (ITU), the internet equivalent to a phonebook – the DNS-system – is controlled through an American organization, ultimately reporting to the American Commerce Department. This worries a few countries, since it puts the control over national top-level domains (e.g. .se, .fr etc.), essentially in the hands of American interests over which there is little control from an international perspective. The organization, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is set to become independent in 2006, but the control will still be out of reach from international entities like the United Nations.

China, and most poor countries oppose the system as it is now and wants UN involvement – and recently European countries are willing to accept such an arrangement, even though they originally supported the ICANN set up.

However, as The Economist adequately points out (“premium” content, Economist subscribers only, sorry), one should no forget that much of the rapid spread of internet technology probably has got a lot to do with it being controlled by private interests, and that the bureaucracy of UN might cripple that in the future.

Personally, I think ICANN (even though its better than what was before), can be seen as American unilateralism and that the world in general could benefit from greater UN control. For example, there’s an enormous amount of money to be made from domain registrations, and the creation of new TLDs – and who can really decide if or when .sex or .whatever is needed and what rules should regulate such domains? I don’t know, but I imagine that it ought not be decided by monetary interests first. However, giving added control to individual countries – over their country domain, for example might also mean increased risk for them using it to add filters, blocking content or banning internet phone calls. Keep in mind that some of the countries in the UN Working Group, such as China, Iran and Cuba has a less-than-excellent reputation when it comes to encouraging free speech online.

WGIG will present its results on the UN World Summit on the Information Society, in Tunisia, November 2005. I’ll keep you updated.