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Diplomat hails progress on internet governance

The United States is refusing to relinquish control of the web

(Keystone)

Markus Kummer, a Swiss diplomat behind international talks on who should oversee the internet, says he is satisfied with progress in finding a solution.

The head of the secretariat of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) told swissinfo about the cautious advances made in this area four months before the United Nations' information summit opens in Tunis.

Presenting the group’s conclusions in Geneva on Monday, Kummer acknowledged that the WGIG had failed to reach consensus on how the internet should be run. But he said the UN panel did agree that no single country should dominate in the field of governance.

In its report the WGIG outlined four possible options to be considered by global leaders during the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, due to be held in Tunis in November. The first phase was held in Geneva two years ago.

One option would be to keep the current system intact, with the United States-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) continuing to manage the domain-name system.

Critics complain that Icann is effectively controlled by the US government, which announced two weeks ago that it had no intention of relinquishing its internet-governance powers.

Another option would see Icann revamped and new international agencies formed under the auspices of the UN.

swissinfo: You said a year ago that it would be over-optimistic to expect a "radical proposal" from the WGIG. Are you happy with what you’ve come up with?

Markus Kummer: Well, first and foremost I’m satisfied we came up with a report that has the support of all the members. We realised early on that the differences of opinion were so great that it would be very unrealistic to come up with a single model which would be the future architecture of the internet.

swissinfo: Who or what would you say were the main stumbling blocks to coming up with a single model?

M.K.: The group comprised 40 members from different walks of life, from different professional and regional backgrounds, so they really covered the whole variety of opinions held out there in the business and the internet community. I would see it as a natural consequence of this that we did not come up with a single model.

But there is a large part of the report that does reflect consensus. We have identified a broad range of subjects including those related to the use and abuse of the internet such as cybercrime and spam, privacy, consumer protection and freedom of expression, which should be treated as priority issues by the international community.

We also identified the lack of a global forum where all countries and all stakeholders can come together to discuss internet issues.

swissinfo: The report calls for a global approach to internet governance. Some might interpret this as an attack on the United States and Icann.

M.K.: If you look at the various options none of them says that Icann should be replaced by anything new. It is more about the institutional anchoring of Icann, the constitutional basis of Icann and also the relationship of governments with Icann.

The working group basically built on the outcome of the first phase of the summit, which agreed that the governance of the internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic – and the working group calls for a further internationalisation of governance arrangements.

swissinfo: How hopeful are you that agreement can be reached in Tunis on one of the four proposals?

M.K.: That’s a very difficult question. These models have to be looked at as starting points, and it does not necessarily mean that one of them has to be the end of the discussion.

As someone who has contributed to this report I will not be unhappy if none of these models is adopted as long as the report has helped to facilitate negotiation and the final outcome of the Tunis summit.

swissinfo-interview: Adam Beaumont in Geneva

Key facts

Markus Kummer is the executive coordinator of the secretariat supporting the WGIG.
He was appointed to this post by the UN secretary-general in March 2004.
From 2002 until 2004 he held the position as eEnvoy of the Swiss foreign ministry.
His main tasks included foreign policy coordination with regard to information and communication technologies in general and the WSIS in particular.

end of infobox

In brief

The UN decided to hold the World Summit on the Information Society in two phases: the first took place in Geneva in 2003 and the second will be held in Tunisia in November.

The aim of the summit is to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor nations, as well as tackle issues such as internet governance.

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