Wednesday, November 16, 2005

UN-fairness on the web

The BBC apparently thinks that the internet, at the moment, is not particularly “fair”. That, at least, is the implication of the headline on this article about the UN’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS):

UN summit aims for fairer web

What, exactly, is “unfair” about the web as currently constituted is not made clear, although the fact that “worldwide only 14% of the population is online, compared to 62% in the US” seems to have something to do with it. So too the fact that the US government was prescient enough (not to mention generous enough) to establish a non-profit organization, Icann, whose primary function, from what I’ve been able to figure out, is basically to ensure that when one types in, say,, one actually goes to TAE’s insightful musings rather than someplace else. How or why this might be “unfair” is lost on me. But apparently the fact that Icann is contracted to the US Department of Commerce is raising some hackles.

Many outside the US argue that no one country should have authority over something that now plays such a key role in the global economy.
You might think that anyone who makes such a ridiculous argument would be more concerned with internationalizing the Federal Reserve than with internationalizing Icann, but I suppose it is wise not to be too ambitious. Better to start small.

Jo Twist, the BBC’s “News technology reporter” (isn’t anyone just a plain old reporter anymore?), tells us:

The UN has been wrangling over who should run the internet for some time and the issue divided nations at the WSIS first stage in Geneva two years ago.
It strikes me that the UN “wrangling” over who “should” manage the internet is a bit like the UN “wrangling” over who “should” run the BBC. It can wrangle all it wants, but ultimately the decision lies elsewhere.

The web is in fact already being managed, and fairly well at that. Indeed for all the controversy over the relationship between the US government and Icann, I have yet to hear any objection to anything Icann has actually done in its role as assigner of domain names and router of access requests. An attempt to make Icann “accountable” to some multinational organization (read: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, etc.) seems to me to be a classic case of a solution in desperate search of a problem.

Although Twist’s piece, if not its headline, is admirably neutral on the whole topic, elsewhere the BBC has enlisted the help of a US professor from Syracuse University (yes, that Syracuse University) to explain to its readers “why the US has to accept change in how the internet is run.” That quotation, by the way, is the BBC’s, not the professor’s, which perhaps helps to explain the BBC’s failure to give equal space to any contrary opinion. If the BBC judges that the US “has” to do something, I suppose there is little reason to give airtime to cranks who think otherwise.

The problem is, as things have transpired today, that judgment turns out to have been wrong.


Anonymous avaroo said...

Look how many people are wrangling over whether the UN should continue to exist these days. So anyone can "wrangle" over anything, even if those who actually make the decision take no part in the wrangling. The question now is, would it really be wise to turn ICANN's responsibilities over to an entity (the UN) that may not exist in 5-10 years time? Since the UN's future existence is in some doubt (and US participation in it may be in even greater doubt), perhaps the consideration should actually be on what OTHER organizations or institutions might be able to take over what ICANN does. Organizations that have a more secure future than the UN does.

12:38 AM  

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