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UN control of internet? Try again.

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As revolutionary as the Internet has been, its largest effects may be yet to come: as an inexhaustible library; as a superefficient vehicle of commerce; as a way for machines and electronic devices anywhere to talk with each other or people.

A UN advisory group has produced a report advocating some international control of the Internet.

The document, produced by the UN's Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) this summer, calls for shared roles by government, commercial interests, and private citizens but doesn't spell out exactly how these roles would be played. It also calls for "effective and meaningful participation of all stakeholders, especially from developing countries" and more resources - human, financial, and technical - for poorer countries.

WGIG is meeting in Geneva over the next two weeks to prepare for a UN summit on Internet governance in Tunis, Tunisia, Nov. 14-16.

Technical standards for the Internet currently are set by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a US-based not-for-profit group established by the US Department of Commerce. The US has said it has no plans to internationalize ICANN but has expressed willingness to discuss the future of the Internet and the possibility of more international cooperation both in Geneva and Tunis.

The US government also has pledged to keep a light hand in its oversight of ICANN. But when ICANN proposed in August to establish a new .xxx domain name, which would apparently establish an official Internet red-light district for pornography, the US asked for a delay to allow more public comment. While the government's motives may have been good, its claim of having a "hands off" policy toward ICANN took a hit.


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