Rift averted at Tunis internet summit

An eleventh-hour deal has avoided a potentially damaging split between the United States and the rest of the world over control of the internet after diplomats agreed to work towards enhanced international cooperation.

    The three-day internet summit began in Tunis on Wednesday

    Negotiators struck an agreement on key clauses on internet governance for endorsement during the World Summit on the Internet Society, which began in Tunis on Wednesday.


    But the deal late Tuesday left intact single-handed US control over the private body that oversees the key technical and administrative roots of the global network, despite the challenges contributing to a three-year deadlock.


    Officials had warned that the internet could have been torn into competing or disconnected networks if the split had continued.


    The agreement set up two parallel tracks of multilateral talks, including an open-ended process "towards enhanced cooperation (by) relevant international organisations" on oversight and public policy issues.


    No target set


    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.


    Despite sharp criticism, the private, non-profit, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was expected to have its tender renewed by the US government next summer.


    Some 50 government leaders
    are participating in the summit

    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 on Wednesday.


    "It took no action with regard to existing institutions including ICANN.

    It created no new international organisations," added Gross, the US coordinator for international communications and information policy.


    Countries such as Iran and China had sought UN oversight of ICANN or internet governance, while the European Union wanted to water down US powers, but Washington firmly objected.


    The other track creates an Internet Governance Forum (IGF) for an initial five-year term to hold talks on all internet issues, including problems such as as spam, cyber crime and computer viruses.


    Efforts applauded


    After a final session which saw US, Chinese and Iranian diplomats swapping suggestions for new wording, officials applauded efforts to widen the scope of formal discussion to industry and civil society.


    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.


    Kofi Annan and Tunisia president
    Bin Ali (C)

    at the opening session

    "The worst has been avoided, but we're not sure that the best is to come in the future. We have left a door open," said Bernard Benhamou, a member of the French delegation.


    "We are satisfied there has been progress and a roadmap," French Industry Minister Francois Loos said on Wednesday, adding that it was not a major leap forward.


    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 said.


    Decision welcomed


    Business groups at the summit said they were ready to take part in the forum.


    In a statement, a coordinating body close to the International Chamber of Commerce also welcomed "the continued commitment to the private sector-led technical management of the internet".


    Washington's critics had warned that no single nation could maintain control over top-level domain or country names - such as .cn, .fr and .uk - without the threat of their being misused to block a foe's access to the Internet for political or economic reasons.


    The US retorted that regimes that do not allow freedom of speech might instead be in a position to have leverage over the internet.



    'We scoured for days without sleeping, just clothes on our backs'

    'We scoured for days without sleeping, just clothes on our backs'

    The Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever to make landfall. Five years on, we revisit this story.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Daughters of al-Shabab

    Daughters of al-Shabab

    What draws Kenyan women to join al-Shabab and what challenges are they facing when they return to their communities?