The future of the Internet - What role for developing countries?

The big showdown between the US and the UN never materialized but the demands of the developing world will have to be dealt with sooner or later.

The big showdown between the US and the UN never materialized and the US' ICANN retains control over core Internet systems,  but  the demands of the developing world - and the concerns about putting internet control in the hands of governments with strong censorship leanings - is  a matter that will have to be dealt with sooner or  later.

The World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis was shaping up as battle royal over control of the net. AP reported:

Negotiators from more than 100 countries had agreed on the eve of the meeting 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. But resentment over perceived U.S. control persisted, and participants left with few concrete pledges of financial help.

"They have promised and promised and promised, and it's not the first time that they have promised this," said Diallo Mohamadou, a telecommunications consultant from Senegal. "In 2000, they promised to connect all the small villages far away from the big cities in Africa to the Internet. Five years later and nothing has happened."

There were lots of new promised in Tunis but no firm commitments of money, and third world representatives may feel justified in doubting that America and Europe really want them as equal partners.

Richard D. McCormick, former chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce, said private industry must work in concert with governments to narrow the divide, adding: "Now the real work begins."

"Now it's up to governments, business, interest groups and the scientific and technical communities to take this freedom and opportunity to improve the lives of every person on this planet," he said. "If we can do that, there will be no losers _ everybody wins."

"People can see the light at the end of the tunnel but they have to find the ways to keep going," said Marshall Smith, program director for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which makes educational materials for students and teachers in Africa and elsewhere available free of charge.

Among the many US-China showdowns in the 21st century will be one over human rights and censorship. The Internet is no exception.

"It is vital that the Internet remain a neutral medium open to all in order to realize that access for our citizens," John Marburger, director of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in a not-so-subtle swipe at Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia's selection as the host of the summit has raised eyebrows. On Thursday, the head of Reporters Without Borders was ordered out of the country after arriving at the airport. Earlier this week, human rights groups said Tunisian and foreign reporters had been harassed and beaten.

"It is the role of governments to ensure that this freedom of expression is available to its citizens and not to stand in the way of people seeking to send and receive information across the Internet," Marburger said.

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