WSIS PARTICIPANTS STILL SHARPLY DIVIDED OVER INTERNET GOVERNANCE
The final preparatory meeting for the forthcoming Tunis Phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) opened last Monday in a spirit of cautious optimism, as delegates expressed their willingness to try to work together to break deadlocks on key agenda items including Internet governance.
The two-week meeting, which is taking place at Geneva’s Palais de Nations from 19-30 September 2005, represents the last chance for more than 130 national delegations and over 150 other stakeholders comprising international organizations, NGOs and business entities, to arrive at an accord ahead of the second phase of WSIS, which begins on November 16.
In his opening address to the 1,350 delegates gathered in the Assembly Hall of the Palais des Nations, ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi emphasized the opportunities offered by ICTs in helping achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. He urged all delegates to use the next two weeks to create an ICT-based “roadmap to a more equitable and just information society”. “Everything is now up to you,” he told the assembly. “Will you be trapped by tradition and narrow interests, or will you be creative enough to deliver a concrete roadmap for the future?”
While key agenda items for PrepCom-3 include financing mechanisms for ICT development and implementation mechanisms for the WSIS Action Plan, the issue of Internet governance is widely expected to dominate discussions.
The transformation of the Internet from an academic research network into a mainstream communications platform and a key strategic resource in today’s emerging Information Society has prompted a wide range of divergent views regarding the mechanisms for future Internet governance.
The growing importance of the Internet as a source of information and knowledge, along with the advent of a host of new ICT-related issues such as spam, online intellectual property protection, cybercrime, network security and secure frameworks for e-commerce, has led some countries to propose a new management structure that would be independent of the oversight of any single government.
If adopted, such a proposal could see some aspects of Internet management moved to a new, more global coordination mechanism. However, with some key delegations already publicly stating their desire to preserve the status quo, the issue remains highly contentious and is expected to be the subject of vigorous debate during the morning sessions of the conference over the coming fortnight.
Efforts to build global consensus on this complex issue had earlier led to the establishment of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), which was set up to examine and make proposals for action on the governance of the Internet by the Summit’s second phase. The final report of the WGIG, released on 18 July (see www.wgig.org), will serve as the catalyst for ongoing debate on this issue at PrepCom-3.
The opening session of the Plenary also saw the election of key conference officials, including the Chairs of the conference’s two principal Sub-Committees.
The Chairman of PrepCom-3 is Janis Karklins, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Latvia to the UN, Geneva. Karklins was elected Chairman for the entire PrepCom process for the Tunis Phase of the World Summit on the Information Society at the first PrepCom meeting in Hammamet, Tunisia, in June 2004.
Sub-Committee A on Internet Governance will be chaired by Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan, while Sub-Committee B, which will tackle all other agenda items, including financial mechanisms and implementation, will be chaired by Lyndall Shope-Mafole, Director-General of South Africa’s Department of Communications.