Washington -- The free flow of information
is “critically important” to nations and individuals,
and the United States remains strongly committed to keeping
the Internet open to everyone without censorship, says the
State Department’s David Gross, the chief U.S. negotiator
at the upcoming world summit on information and the Internet.
The U.N.-sponsored WSIS will convene on November 16-18 in Tunis, Tunisia.
“One of the most important aspects
of the Internet is the potential freedom that people can
have to obtain information and to express their opinions,”
said Ambassador Gross during a live webchat November 2.
Gross, who is the U.S. coordinator for international
communications and information policy at the State Department,
spoke in advance of the United Nations-sponsored World Summit
on the Information Society (WSIS) to be held Tunis, Tunisia,
November 16-18. Participants will discuss the future of
Internet governance and ways to bring the benefits of technology
to the developing world.
During the WSIS preparatory meetings, a
number of countries have suggested that Internet governance
should be turned over to the United Nations or other multilateral
A recent European Union proposal, for example,
outlined a new framework for international cooperation that
would see the creation of a new, multistakeholder “forum”
to develop public policy, and international government involvement
in the allocation of Internet Provider addressing systems.
Gross has said that the very nature of the
Internet as an innovative and dynamic medium could suffer
if a “top-down bureaucratic structure” assumes
responsibility for setting policy or managing and coordinating
domain names, which is currently done by a nonprofit organization
named ICANN -- Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and
Numbers. (See related
“We believe that governments should
not control the changing technical aspects of the Internet
or its content, with limited exceptions for those very narrow
things that are outlawed even in the non-cyber world,”
Gross said during the webchat.
“We believe that the technology changes
too quickly in ways that benefit everyone so that a top-down
management approach such as would be done by an intergovernmental
group would be very counterproductive.”
He added that “the open nature of
the Internet, both in terms of technical standards and communications,
is at the heart of the Internet's success. We, together
with many others, are committed to keeping the Internet
open to all.”
A chat participant expressed fear that a
takeover of the Internet by a government or group might
lead to an “Internet breakage into national pieces.”
Gross responded by saying that “we
do not believe that it is in any country's interest to create
an independent national network that is not connected and
interoperable with the Internet. In fact, all countries
seem to recognize that there is great value in having their
networks connected to each other. Those countries that use
firewalls or otherwise restrict the ability of their citizens
to obtain access to information are hurting themselves,
especially when it comes to their ability to compete economically.”
U.S. INTERNET INITIATIVES
The United States is helping countries around
the world find ways to use technology, including the Internet,
to help their people, Gross said.
“One-third of the world could be left
behind if more is not done to provide developing countries
with the skills, knowledge, and access to markets necessary
to compete,” he said.
“Appropriately designed information
and communication technology in developing countries can
provide inexpensive and critical access to domestic and
global markets, allowing the invisible hand of the market
to be a helping hand to the poor.”
Gross outlined the Digital
Freedom Initiative, one of the U.S.-backed initiatives
designed to assist developing nations in expanding their
telecommunications programs. The project currently supports
projects and training in Senegal, Peru, Indonesia and Jordan.
He also pointed out that leaving the Internet
in the hands of the private sector does not mean just the
business sector. “Although the private sector sometimes
is viewed as being the same as corporations, we think that
the term is much broader” and includes non-governmental
organizations, citizens, academics and others, Gross said.
“There are critically important roles to be played
by all of these groups.”
Gross said he is interested in participating
in another webchat following the Tunis summit to discuss
the outcome of the conference.
The webchat included more than 100 participants
from five continents.
For additional information on the upcoming
summit, see “United
States Strives to Maintain Internet Dynamism”
Internet Access Must Remain World Focus at Summit.”
Washington File Staff Writer