NZ’s three aims at WSIS achieved: Cunliffe

Although the question of internet governance was somewhat sidelined at the first episode of the World Summit on the Information Society, associate IT minister David Cunliffe has expressed qualified support for the present ICANN structure.

Although the question of internet governance was somewhat sidelined at the first episode of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), associate IT minister David Cunliffe has expressed qualified support for the present ICANN structure, in the face of those at the conference who would want it in the hands of government agencies.

And talking to other nations’ representatives about the development of telecomms in their countries has left him with the impression that DSL’s sun is setting in favour of wireless and fibre.

Cunliffe sees three objectives in New Zealand’s representation at WSIS, and our delegation achieved on all fronts he says. The three prongs were:

  • to gain insight into the ICT strategies being put in place in other nations and consider what elements of those might be useful to the New Zealand government’s current evolution of its own strategy for the next few years;

  • to contribute to the statement of principles and plan of action in worldwide implementation of ICT being

    progressed at the summit;

  • to “raise New Zealand’s profile” on the world ICT stage.
He left the conference “well convinced” that representation at a ministerial level had been worthwhile. There was, he acknowledges, some doubt in the preparatory stages of the conference over whether such senior representation was justified, since there appeared to be a huge North-South division over some of the fundamentals to be debated and it seemed unlikely that much constructive would come out of it. However, these differences were overcome “and in the end, we did get some positive conclusions”.

New Zealand’s delegate to the preparatory conferences, Winston Roberts, of the National Library, played a significant role in reducing the discord and getting summit preparations on track, Cunliffe says.

Contact with ministers and heads of state from other nations, and prominent figures from the ICT industry, was very valuable, he says. “Most important from the point of view of my portfolio was to [absorb] some of the latest thinking about ICT strategy and its implications for public welfare and economic productivity.”

By “skilfully deploying our delegation”, New Zealand was able both to absorb the significant parts of the discussion of the summit itself and schedule offline meetings between Cunliffe and ministers and senior officials from the US, Canada, Spain, Australia, Finland and South Korea, and on a less formal basis Pakistan and Thailand.

Much information was exchanged and pointers given to valuable source material, he says. “One of my key impressions was of an intensifying race for ICT markets, and the growing ubiquity of communications — increasingly based on fibre and wireless, rather than [copper-wire-based] DSL.”

The importance of ICT skills and “e-content” as “a source of value to businesses and society” came through strongly, Cunliffe says. The production of electronic content is “not a scale-dependent part of the industry; it doesn’t need huge plants, people can do it even from their own homes”. This means a small country like New Zealand is well equipped to compete in the new ICT market, he suggests.

New Zealand’s profile was high; it had two finalists in the conference‘s global e-content awards — a medical telepresence application and Living Heritage, a bilingual website assembled by New Zealand schools.

A contentious topic hanging over the conference, though any conclusions were deferred, was the question of governance of the internet, with a number of nations proposing it be vested in governments and inter-governmental bodies.

The New Zealand government’s position is largely in support of the current private-industry-based ICANN scheme, with its provision for “bottom-up” policy development.

“We have some reservations over the continuing central role of the US Department of Commerce.” There may be other objections to details of ICANN structure and functions, but “it is too early to say what modifications we might support”.

The internet governance question will re-emerge for international discussion at the second WSIS conference, in Tunisia next year, following interim reports.

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