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Brussels, 15 November 2005
How is the Internet governed today?
The internet governance controversy in Tunis turns on the question of who manages a key part of its infrastructure – the domain name system (DNS), i.e. the rules that computers and networks use to find each other. These rules are currently managed by the California-based not-for-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), under a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Commerce Department.
In effect, this arrangement gives the US government the sole right to decide when a new Top Level Domain (TLD) can be introduced into cyberspace, whether it be a new country code (.uk, .fr, etc) or a new “generic” TLD, such as .com or .eu.
The fact that the internet has become a strategically vital part of most countries’ communications infrastructure, and one that directly affects economic growth and social development is prompting many to question whether one government alone should supervise such an important part of the infrastructure. Many countries see the internet as a global resource, and some even argue that all nations should have a role in setting policies through a multilateral institution. Internet Governance has therefore become an issue which is debated at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis.
What is the Commission’s position on internet governance?
The 25 nations of the European Union will speak in Tunis with one voice, expressed by the UK Presidency and supported by the European Commission. The EU view has been repeated many times in the past months and has remained essentially unchanged in recent years. The EU advocates a free, stable, democratic Internet that is open to the world.
The EU believes, first of all, that ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is doing a very good job. The privatisation of the technical management of the world-wide domain name system in the hands of the California-based non-profit organisation ICANN was strongly supported by the EU in 1998. The Commission believes that one should not try to change this successful example of management in private hands. ICANN carries the trust of the global Internet Community.
Secondly, the EU believes that governments should not have a say in the day-to-day management of the Net. To involve governments in this work could create unnecessary burdensome structures and could even endanger the Internet’ stability. The EU therefore supports an approach to Internet governance that even further removes government control from ICANN.
For many years, this objective was also shared by the US administration. Such an approach would also allow complete the privatising of the day-today management of the Net by phasing out the oversight functions of the US Department of Commerce over ICANN.
Thirdly, the EU believes that on important policy issues concerning the functioning of the Internet – such as spam, cyber crime and, most important, ensuring access by all citizens to the freedoms offered by the Web – a new "cooperation model" is needed, in other words: a light and transparent mechanism for deliberations between governments. The Commission welcomes the fact that the US has already expressed their interest in a closer cooperation with other governments to address public policy and sovereignty issues concerning the country code top-level domains. The Commission takes the view that in these discussions, we should bring all nations to the same table and not exclude anyone. Only in this way will we spread the understanding that freedom of expression on the Internet is the starting point not only for a democratic development of societies, but also for their prosperity.
However, for such deliberations, we do certainly not need to establish new structures or even to call in the United Nations. We can instead build on the existing structures, in particular on ICANN. With regard to the new model of cooperation proposed by the EU, Commissioner Reding could envisage the following: “If governments around the world are genuinely committed to a free, stable, and open Internet, the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN could be a suitable body to help putting elements of the new cooperation model proposed by us Europeans into practice.”
How can information and communication technologies help developing countries?
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) – which include everything from old-fangled telephones and broadcasting equipment to the latest smart, do-everything devices – are vital to any country’s long-run economic competitiveness, social cohesion, good governance and quality medical care. National research and education networks play a strategic role in enabling schoolchildren, students, businesses and citizens to use these technologies productively, in ways that overcome the inadequacies of existing markets and public services.
ICTs need infrastructure, but hardware alone does not make an effective information system. To make the hardware useful, international co-operation schemes also support energy supply, training, policy and planning, and ICT applications development. These schemes are helping many developing countries to skip older generation ICTs and access newer, cheaper and more useful ones directly.
As developing countries’ economies liberalise, so a growing share of telecommunications infrastructure investment must come from the private sector. To attract this investment, governments, with donor support, may provide low-interest loans or risk guarantees. At the very least, they need to ensure that regulation fosters enterprise and competition.
Where the market cannot meet development needs, e.g. because providing connections to poor and rural areas would be unprofitable, governments may help through innovative public-private partnerships, incentives, or public provision. Donor support is often important in launching and expanding such initiatives.
To harness the development potential of ICTs, the EU works with international aid programmes coordinated by inter-governmental or non-governmental agencies. The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD, and the European Development Fund (EDP) – an initiative for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries – are all important partners in investing in ICT for development.
For example, around €110 million from the 9th European Development Fund for ACP countries goes to ICT-related aid. Most developing countries view ICTs as an integral part of their development plans, and ICTs form a significant part of many EU-funded projects.
Research and education
- GÉANT2, the high-speed pan-European research and education network, connects European researchers with colleagues in North America, Japan, Latin America, the Asia-Pacific rim, North Africa and the Middle East, South Africa, Caucasus, and Central Asia. Because research is inherently global, GÉANT2 strives to offer a seamless worldwide service enabling researchers to share knowledge and co-operate, irrespective of which specific network takes data to the individual scientist. GÉANT2’s geographic coverage, technology skills and services attract interconnection requests from all over the world.
- ALICE (America Latina Interconectada Con Europa) connects Latin American national research and education networks to GÉANT2 via a Latin American regional research network, RedCLARA. ALICE is 80% funded by the European Commission (@LIS Programme), and has 4 European partners (France, Italy, Portugal and Spain) and 19 Latin American ones, including the Latin American research networking association CLARA. ALICE has greatly enhanced the ability of researchers in Latin America to join in research projects around the world.
- TEIN2, the Trans-Eurasia Information Network, is providing a regional backbone network for research and education within 10 Asia-Pacific countries (including 6 developing countries which directly benefit from 80% funding under the European Commission’s - Asi@ICTProgramme). TEIN2 facilitates scientific collaboration within the Asia-Pacific region, with its neighbours (e.g. Australia and India), and with Europe (via GÉANT2).
- research and education networks in more than 30 European countries,
- the South African research network, TENET,
- access to the commercial internet (optional service, terms and conditions apply).
- BEANISH is an EU R&D project that networks European and African countries to develop ICT applications to combat diseases such as HIV/AIDS. It enables governments, universities, private firms and NGOs to tailor open-source software to specific local needs, and train people to use it.
- T@lemed is a project that combines medical diagnostics with network technology to deliver advanced clinical expertise from large hospitals to remote rural communities in Brazil. Medical data and images are transmitted via network infrastructure provided by the ALICE (America Latina Interconectada Con Europa) or RedCLARA networks. RedCLARA links researchers across Latin America, and enables them to exchange medical data and opinions with European colleagues via RedCLARA’s European counterpart, GÉANT2, using a transatlantic link.
Upgrading networking technologies for the worldwide web
- 6NET, a European project with 35 partners from academia, research and private industry, has demonstrated the viability of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), which is needed to upgrade the worldwide web’s carrying capacity and support its exponential growth. 6NET has developed tools and expertise for migrating from today’s IP4 to IPv6 networks and tested a range of IPv6 applications. Its findings, including a comprehensive user manual, have been made available worldwide. In the southern Caucasus and Central Asia, the SILK and SPONGE projects used European Space Agency (ESA) equipment to supply a satellite-based IPv6 service. Many other IPv6 or dual IPv4/IPv6 networks are now being rolled out around the world, enabling developing countries to skip several technology generations and access the latest, high-performance networks directly.
How does the EU contribute to information society policy making worldwide?
The European Union strongly supports international cooperation in the ICT field. In line with the WSIS Declaration of Principles, the programmes and projects supported with the least developed countries and regions aim to fight poverty and to empower citizens by helping them to access and use ICTs.
International cooperation takes place at three levels:
Vehicles for international information society cooperation include: