CAIRO, Nov. 13 (Xinhuanet, by Ma Lian, Liu Hao) -- Solutions are expected to be found to the dispute over who should govern the Internet and whether to set up a fund aimed at helping narrow the digital gap between rich and poor nations at the UN-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) due to be held in the Tunisian capital of Tunis from Nov. 16 to 18.
Over 11,000 participants, including heads of state and government, business leaders and technology experts, will also formulate an agenda for the future to translate principles into concrete actions.
Two years ago, delegates from 175 countries to the first phase of WSIS in Geneva adopted a Declaration of Principles, pointing the way to an information society which is accessible to all and based on shared knowledge.
The associated Action Plan set the goals of bringing 50 percent of world's population online by 2015, without going into the specifics of how to achieve it.
But the Geneva summit left the controversial issues like the Internet governance and the funding to be resolved at the second phase of WSIS in Tunis.
Since 1998, the Internet has been managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based company set up by the US Department of Commerce to oversee the domain names and addressing systems such as country domain suffixes.
Many countries, especially the developing nations said that the Internet should not be under the control of any single country and should be overseen by a multilateral organization, while the US government is determined to keep control of ICANN that technically rules the Internet.
A UN panel charged with finding a solution to the row over Internet governance failed to reach a decision.
Instead, the Working Group for the Internet Governance (WGIG)proposed four options in its report released in July, which will be presented to the Tunis summit.
The four options are as follows:
Option One: create a UN body known as the Global Internet Council to take over the US oversight role of ICANN;
Option Two: no changes apart from strengthening ICANN's governmental advisory committee to become a forum for official debate on net issues;
Option Three: relegate ICANN to a narrow technical role and setup an International Internet Council that sits outside the UN. US loses oversight of ICANN.
Option Four: create three new bodies. One to take over from ICANN. One to be a debating chamber for governments, business and the public, and one to coordinate on Internet-related publicpolicy issues.
"In the end it will be up to governments to decide if there will be any change," said Markus Kummer, executive director of the WGIG.
Though the group could not agree on a single model, it does recommend the creation of some sort of global forum for governments, industry and others to discuss key policy issues such as spam and cyber crime and how the net develops.
Being the current sheriff of the Internet, Washington is strongly opposed to setting up any kind of international body to govern the Internet, citing that the Internet has been functioning well under the management of the ICANN.
"We will not agree to the UN taking over the management of the Internet," David Gross, the US coordinator for international communications and information policy at the State Department,told the third preparatory meeting held in Geneva in September inthe run-up to the Tunis summit.
Earlier in November, some American technology firms including Google, IBM and Microsoft said that they were supporting the Bush administration's efforts to maintain the United States' dominance over the Internet.
Fearing of a fragmented Internet if there is no agreement, the European Union is suggesting a model of cooperation or an international forum to discuss the Internet.
Whatever decision the conference reaches could provoke a clash with US.
In an article published in the Washington Post on Nov. 5, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that the Tunis phase of WSIS could end up giving too much focus to internet governance and not enough to the summit's original goal of ensuring that poor countries experience the full benefits of new information and communication technologies.
According to the statistics released by the International Telecommunication Union, 942 million people living in developed countries enjoy five times better access to fixed and mobile services, nine times better access to Internet services, and own 13 times more personal computers than the 85 percent of the world population living in low and lower-middle income countries.
Though the Geneva summit agreed on the need to extend internet benefits to all, there were no commitments to practical measures and African countries failed in their push for a UN "digital solidarity fund" to help them pay for hardware and software. European, Japanese and the US governments had resisted the idea. Instead, they only agreed to study the creation of a fund to helppoor countries benefit from new technology.
The Geneva summit did succeed in drawing attention to the role that information technology could play in helping developing nations out of poverty, but the digital divide will never be bridged without concrete actions. Enditem