EU Optimistic Over Plans for Wider Governance of Internet

By Huw Jones

The European Commission hopes a meeting next week will come up with an agreement to allow governments more direct influence over the domain name system that guides traffic around the Internet.

A U.N. report has put forward a more multi-national approach to running the Internet which serves a billion users worldwide, saying this would be more democratic and transparent, a view the 25-nation European Union shares.

Day-to-day handling of domain names is done by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based non-profit organization created by the U.S. Commerce Department.

ICANN's _governments_ committee has only an advisory role.

A final round of diplomatic talks on the report is due on Saturday ahead of the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis on November 16-18.

Internet governance is seen by most users and countries outside the United States as being too heavily skewed in favor of America, though David Gross, the U.S. State Department ambassador who is heading the U.S. delegation in Tunis, told Reuters last month that it was the private sector that leads in running the Internet.

The Commission said it has made much progress with its aims.

"We are entering into the final phase of negotiations with quite an optimistic point of view," Jean-Francois Soupizet, deputy head of international relations at the Commission said.

"We have already the elements for an agreement, notably a workable definition of Internet governance," Soupizet told a forum on convergence in the media.

Software and Internet firms fear that wide government involvement will mean more regulation and taxes.

Soupizet said the EU was against setting up a new U.N. mechanism to intervene in developing the Internet infrastructure, which the EU says should be left to current operators on a day-to-day basis.

"Only when this is not working properly, then we could consider intervention. This point is now widely shared by all parties at WSIS ... and will be reflected in the Tunis agenda for action," Soupizet said.

Some 80 to 90 percent of plan of action to be signed off in Tunis has already been agreed, he added.

The U.N. report has raised hackles among U.S. politicians. "We cannot allow the U.N. to control the Internet," Republican senator Norm Coleman has said, "It has to be the United States only in control."

Other politicians have called for the U.S. role in Internet governance to be maintained, with the Commerce Department still overseeing ICANN.

Theresa Swinehart, a general manager at ICANN, made claims at the meeting that ICANN did not "run or control or govern the Internet, but coordinates," but many of the other participants strongly disagreed, claiming that ICANN deliberatly ignores certain safeguards which would help their users.

Wider representation of countries and other interested parties is already emerging but was not perfect yet, she said. "The WSIS process needs to make sure it does not put at risk the 35 years to develop the Internet to date."

Bernard Benhamou, director of Internet governance in the French Prime Minister's office, said more democratic governance of the Internet was needed as its power to intrude into people's lives increases, and the need to tackle civil liberties issues such as identity theft and spam.

"ICANN only represents corporate America business interests", he added.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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