Many eyes have been fixated on the U.S. delegation during the three-day World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) here in Geneva and, in particular, during the numerous rounds of difficult preparatory talks.
On several of the summit's key issues, such as Internet governance, funding for Internet expansion in developing countries, software and intellectual property, U.S. envoys bargained hard. And some would say they got their way.
Wording in the official documents reflects an expressed U.S. interest to either uphold the status quo on such issues as Net governance and funding or, in the case of software, ensure that the interests of major U.S.-based suppliers -- notably Microsoft Corp. -- are represented.
In a highly guarded hotel housing diplomats near the United Nations (U.N.), which is hosting WSIS, IDGNS spoke to David Gross, head of the U.S. delegation to WSIS. Gross is a political appointee of President Bush, carrying the title "Ambassdor" on his business card.
IDGNS: Delegates agreed to have the Secretary-General of the United Nations (Kofi Annan) establish a committee to study the issue of Internet governance. Was it too difficult to reach any hard decisions on this issue in Geneva?
Gross: It was an excellent decision to have the Secretary-General of the U.N. establish a working group on Internet governance. The mechanism for creating the committee will be an open process; it will not just be a governments-only organization. In addition to governments, the committee will be open to the private sector, Civil Society and other inter-governmental organizations. In effect, it will be open to everyone and anyone.
IDGNS: What is the primary focus of this committee?
Gross: The group is to do one very limited thing -- to create a report. One thing we learned during the preparatory talks is that there is a great deal of misunderstanding of the issues, including Internet governance. If you have five people in a room and ask them to define Internet governance, you get five different views. Some people think that Internet governance is synonymous with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Others think of Internet governance in a much broader sense, to include a host of other issues. So the objective of the report is to help define the term Internet governance and identify the public policy issues associated with it.
IDGNS: Some think ICANN could take on the role of an international, inter-governmental body governing the Net. Do you agree?
Gross: What impact the working group will have on ICANN in the future is impossible to predict. ICANN plays a very important role but a very carefully defined role with regard to Internet governance. One of the functions of that role, for instance, is top-level domain name allocation. ICANN is not an organization designed to address Internet governance issues as many broadly define that term.
IDGNS: Do we need a new body then?
Gross: We think the key to this issue is through a multi-stakeholder approach. Muti-stakeholders include governments, Civil Society and the private sector. We have long believed and continue to believe that (efforts to manage the Internet) should be private sector led for a number of reasons, perhaps the most important being that Internet technology and issues are changing so rapidly that (Internet governance) really needs to be led by the private sector because of its ability to change and modify things so quickly.