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World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)

U.S. cites importance of free flow of information on Internet

Posted: November 4, 2005 > UPDATED COVERAGE  

World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)
The U.N.-sponsored WSIS will convene on November 16-18 in Tunis, Tunisia.
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.

“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 groups.

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 article.)

“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” and “Expanding Internet Access Must Remain World Focus at Summit.”

Tim Receveur
Washington File Staff Writer

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