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.