InternetNZ sees the last-minute sidelining of internet governance issues from the agenda of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) as a positive development. "It was a predictable result," says executive director Keith Davidson. "It probably reflects an attempt to appease all parties."
He expresses some concern, however, at the possibility that a proposed Internet Governance Forum might encroach in the longer term on some of the well-functioning core structures of current internet governance.
The paper from the preparatory conferences presented to the summit, held in Tunis this week, had several alternative variants of a crucial clause on internet governance, which put up for discusssion a more international governance structure, possibly under the auspices of the United Nations and the International Telecommunications Union, a UN body.
The current governing body, Icann, is heavily influenced by the US givernment and governments of smaller nations saw this as one-sided.
Earlier this month, Davidson told Computerworld that InternetNZ did not see the replacement of one government's influence by that of 150 governments as likely to advance the orderly governance and development of the internet.
In the event, the final version of the clause makes the low-key statement: "We are convinced that there is a need to initiate and reinforce as appropriate a transparent, democratic and multilateral process, with the pariticipation of governments, private sector, civil society and international organisations in their respective roles. This process could envisage creation of a suitable framework of mechanisms where justified, thus spurring the ongoing evolution of the current arrangements in order to synergise the efforts in this regard."
The paper goes on to ask the UN secretary-general to convene next year an Internet Governance Forum, to discuss key elements of internet governance and "facilitate discourse" among the various concerned bodies.
"The UN secretary-general should extend invitations to all stakeholders and relevant parties to participate at the inaugural meeting of the IGF, taking into condsieration balanced goegraphical representation," the paper says.
The IGF's pirorities as sketched out concentrate on issues of public policy and "use and misuse of the internet" rather than seeking to dilute US control of the root servers and other crucial elements of infrastucture.
To have a broader arena for discussion of such matters as spam, phishing and communication among terrorists over the internet "could be useful", Davidson says, "but [the IGF] is unlikely to limit itself to that and may try to usurp some of ICANN's responsibilities." He looks with particular concern on hints that the UN might still seek participation in the running of generic top-level domains such as .com and .net.
A more positive way forward, Davidson says, would be for Icann's existing Government Advisory Committee (GAC) to be strengthened "and governments to start to take ICANN seriously".
While the governance question has been diverted away from Tunis, it will no doubt be energetically discussed at the next ICANN meetring, in Vancouver later this year, and at next year's meeting in Wellington, he says.