Sat, Mar 27, 2004 - Page 7 News List

UN hosts debate on how to govern the `digital divide'

REUTERS , UNITED NATIONS

Who runs the Internet and how can it better serve the world? Everyone from the Internet's founders to advocacy groups met at the UN on Thursday to work on a new definition of governing the Internet.

While tech-savvy citizens of the world can send e-mail across the globe or buy digital music online, several governments in the developing world say the Internet has aggravated a "digital divide" where the world's poor remain unconnected to modern Internet and communication innovations.

"Already we can tell that there is an elephant in the room," Vinton Cerf, a director of the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said at a news briefing.

ICANN was chartered in 1998 by the US government as a private nonprofit body to assign names and numbers to manage domain names.

"Some people suggest it is globalization. The other aspect of the elephant was that there were a lot of blind people trying to figure out what Internet governance is," said Cerf, a vice president of MCI.

"So far, we've had many different views and no good definitions," he said.

Internet use has exploded over the past decade, with an estimated 700 million and 1 billion users.

Many developing countries want governments to play a larger role in what appears on the Internet through the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency.

But the world's richer nations want to preserve the status quo. Some in the private sector fear increased government involvement could slow innovation and lead to more red tape.

A UN task force was established last December to determine whether government officials should step in and set Internet policy in an effort to speed up the bridging of the technology gap.

At the two-day "Global Forum on Internet Governance," more than 200 representatives from government, the private sector and civil society debated issues such as regulation and transparency, and how to balance those with innovation in expanding the uses of the Internet.

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