An 11th-hour deal ahead of a UN Internet summit in Tunisia has left the US in charge of the Internet's traffic system, though diplomats agreed to set up a forum to enhance international cooperation on key issues.
Negotiators struck an agreement on key clauses on Internet governance for endorsement during the World Summit on the Internet Society, which began in Tunis, Tunisia on Wednesday. The deal cleared the way for the summit to focus on the digital divide between rich and poor nations.
However, it left intact the United States' single-handed control over the private body known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that oversees the key technical and administrative roots of the Internet.
The eleventh-hour agreement sidestepped a brewing row between the US and the rest of the world, which officials warned could have seen the Internet torn into competing or disconnected networks. US control of the domain-name system that guides online traffic had become a sticking point for the European Union as well as several countries such as Iran and Brazil, who argued that it should be managed by the United Nations or some other global body.
To mollify those bodies pushing for more international control, diplomats agreed to set up multilateral talks, including an open-ended process "towards enhanced cooperation (by) relevant international organizations" on oversight and public policy issues.
The new process will be triggered by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the first quarter of 2006, according to the final draft, but it set no target for an outcome.
The EU said in a statement that the agreement would lead to "further internationalization of Internet governance, and enhanced intergovernmental cooperation to this end."
"Unique role of the US"
US diplomats said the agreement essentially endorses the status quo.
The accord "preserved the unique role of the US government in ensuring the reliability and stability of the Internet," top US negotiator David Gross said Wednesday.
"It took no action with regard to existing institutions including ICANN. It created no new international organizations," added Gross, the US coordinator for international communications and information policy.
The deal also foresees the creation of an Internet Governance Forum (IGF) for an initial five-year term to hold talks on all Internet issues, including problems such as spam, cyber crime and computer viruses.
The IGF, which Greece has offered to host, will also be allowed to "build on the existing structures of Internet Governance" but has no concrete powers.
UN Under Secretary General for Communications Shashi Tharoor said an agreement on Internet governance was "crucial" to continue to build on freedom of expression on the global process.
"We need more voices in the process and we need more voices on the net," Tharoor told journalists.
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