Media madness and Net control

The Guardian, unusually, has a leader article on the whole topic of Internet governance today.

I am also rather pleased to see that my story for The Guardian last Thursday in its technology section was the second biggest story on its website on Thursday, and the biggest on Friday. It was also linked to by Slashdot and The Drudge Report.

So what? Well, I have been beating my head against a wall for the past few years trying constantly and failing constantly to get national media interested in the issue of who runs the Internet and how.

The fact that this story was the biggest hitting for two days on the biggest UK news website save the monster BBC ( is the 288th biggest website in the world), demonstrates to me that there is huge interest in this topic.

But just try to tell that the print media. Or even news websites. I sent an email to the head of technology news at BBC Online two days before I went to Geneva offering him unique and exclusive copy of the event. I didn't even receive a reply.

And yet, fuck me, two days after I've filed three stories on it, the BBC then decides to run a story. And it is now important enough for the head to himself write a piece about Internet governance.

I am going to try all over again to sell the media stories on Net control in order to make my trip to Tunisia in November worthwhile. Maybe an editorial in two of the UK's biggest news sources will finally wake people up to the importance of this issue.

But I'm not holding out much hope. In fact I'm almost certain they'll not be interested or will say they're thinking of sending their own person.

But if anyone reading this is interested in paying for news emailed directly to them from an experienced freelance journalist on the ground who knows all the issues intimately and has the best contacts available in this field, do please let me know –

This, incidentally, is what the Guardian has to say on the subject of Net governance. Seems fairly reasoned to me. Certainly more reasoned than the continuing pieces coming out from the US media.

Time to change control

Tuesday October 11, 2005
The Guardian

Who should run the internet? Until recently it was an academic question. After all, the United States – thanks to public money and (later on) private entrepreneurialism – had been the midwife of the net in the 1960s and had assumed de facto maternal control. But this divine right is now being challenged. Last week the EU proposed new global institutions, possibly under UN control, to replace existing organisations such as Icann which controls the issuing of domain names such as “.com” and the “root servers” critical for the working of the net's infrastructure. This is to be decided at next month's UN world summit in Tunis on the information society, where the US is likely to be in a tiny minority against the rest of he world.

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It would be wrong to exaggerate the influence of Icann since the internet is by its nature a highly fragmented system that is very difficult to control. But Icann, though nominally independent, is subject to a veto by the US department of commerce which set it up. The Bush administration has made it crudely clear that it will not give up its veto and especially not to a body answering to the UN.

It is time the US had a more mature approach. Whatever its origins, the internet is a global phenomenon and that must be reflected in its governance. The US has done immensely well out of its invention since it produces most of the hardware and software that powers the internet. This has been a big factor in the prolonged revival of the US economy during the past decade. Whatever legitimate worries there may be about threats to security under broadened control they must not be used as an excuse to prevent the emergence of a new model of internet governance to reflect its global structure. This need not spell the end of Icann, which has done a good job. It would certainly mean broadening the base of its stakeholders.

There is a need for a separate body to deal with global issues such as spamming, child pornography, intellectual property and abuses of democratic rights. The UN would be good for this role, though its bureaucratic structure is not best fitted to run a fast-moving phenomenon such as the internet, nor to deal with political problems including China, which recently forced Yahoo to hand over data that led to the imprisonment of a journalist. China has also been trying to change domain name suffixes to make them inoperable in China. Any new body should have a membership and constitution that reflects the extraordinarily democratic character of the internet, and which also protects it against interference from governments.