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Deal averts Internet showdown


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Deal averts Internet showdown

Wednesday, November 16, 2005; Posted: 6:17 a.m. EST (11:17 GMT)




TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) -- A summit focusing on narrowing the digital divide between the rich and poor residents and countries opened Wednesday with an agreement of sorts on who will maintain ultimate oversight of the Internet and the flow of information, commerce and dissent.


The World Summit on the Information Society had been overshadowed by a lingering, if not vocal, struggle about overseeing the domain names and technical issues that make the Internet work and keep people from Pakistan to Canada surfing Web sites in the search for information, news and buying and selling.


Negotiators from more than 100 countries agreed late Tuesday to leave the United States in charge of the Internet's addressing system, averting a U.S.-EU showdown at this week's U.N. technology summit.


U.S. officials said early Wednesday that instead of transferring management of the system to an international body such as the United Nations, an international forum would be created to address concerns. The forum, however, would have no binding authority.


U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael Gallagher said the deal means the United States will leave day-to-day management to the private sector, through a quasi-independent organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.


"The Internet lives to innovate for another day," he told The Associated Press.


Negotiators have met since Sunday to reach a deal ahead of the U.N. World Summit on the Information Society, which starts Wednesday. World leaders are expected to ratify a declaration incorporating the deal during the summit, which ends Friday.


While the summit drew thousands of people from around the world, most western countries opted not to send their top-ranking leaders, preferring instead to send government workers and low-level figures.


However, other leaders were scheduled to attend, including Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senegal's Abdulaye Wade and Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was due to fly to the summit Wednesday, organizers said.


The summit was originally conceived to address the digital divide -- the gap between information haves and have-nots -- by raising both consciousness and funds for projects.


Instead, it has centered largely around Internet governance: oversight of the main computers that control traffic on the Internet by acting as its master directories so Web browsers and e-mail programs can find other computers.


The accord reached late Tuesday also called for the establishment of a new international group to give more countries a stronger say in how the Internet works, including the issue of making domain names -- currently done in the Latin languages -- into other languages, such as Chinese, Urdu and Arabic.


Under the terms of the compromise, the new group, the Internet Governance Forum, would start operating next year with its first meeting opened by Annan. Beyond bringing its stakeholders to the table to discuss the issues affecting the Internet, and its use, it won't have ultimate authority.


Gallagher said the compromise's ultimate decision is that leadership of the Internet, and its future direction, will remain in the hands of the private sector, although some critics contend that the U.S. government, which oversees ICANN, if only nominally, could still flex its muscle in future decisions.


"The rural digital divide is isolating almost 1 billion of the poorest people who are unable to participate in the global information society," the agency said in a statement.


Ahead of the summit, rights watchdogs say, both Tunisian and foreign reporters have been harassed and beaten. Reporters Without Borders says its secretary-general, Robert Menard, has been banned from attending.



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