Deal averts Internet showdown

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) -- A summit focusing on narrowing the digital divide
between the rich and poor residents and countries opened Wednesday with an
agreement of sorts on who will maintain ultimate oversight of the Internet
and the flow of information, commerce and dissent.

The World Summit on the Information Society had been overshadowed by a
lingering, if not vocal, struggle about overseeing the domain names and
technical issues that make the Internet work and keep people from Pakistan
to Canada surfing Web sites in the search for information, news and buying
and selling.

Negotiators from more than 100 countries agreed late Tuesday to leave the
United States in charge of the Internet's addressing system, averting a
U.S.-EU showdown at this week's U.N. technology summit.

U.S. officials said early Wednesday that instead of transferring management
of the system to an international body such as the United Nations, an
international forum would be created to address concerns. The forum,
however, would have no binding authority.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael Gallagher said the deal means
the United States will leave day-to-day management to the private sector,
through a quasi-independent organization called the Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.

"The Internet lives to innovate for another day," he told The Associated

Negotiators have met since Sunday to reach a deal ahead of the U.N. World
Summit on the Information Society, which starts Wednesday. World leaders are
expected to ratify a declaration incorporating the deal during the summit,
which ends Friday.

While the summit drew thousands of people from around the world, most
western countries opted not to send their top-ranking leaders, preferring
instead to send government workers and low-level figures.

However, other leaders were scheduled to attend, including Nigerian
President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senegal's Abdulaye Wade and Libyan leader
Moamer Kadhafi. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was due to fly to the
summit Wednesday, organizers said.

The summit was originally conceived to address the digital divide -- the gap
between information haves and have-nots -- by raising both consciousness and
funds for projects.

Instead, it has centered largely around Internet governance: oversight of
the main computers that control traffic on the Internet by acting as its
master directories so Web browsers and e-mail programs can find other

The accord reached late Tuesday also called for the establishment of a new
international group to give more countries a stronger say in how the
Internet works, including the issue of making domain names -- currently done
in the Latin languages -- into other languages, such as Chinese, Urdu and

Under the terms of the compromise, the new group, the Internet Governance
Forum, would start operating next year with its first meeting opened by
Annan. Beyond bringing its stakeholders to the table to discuss the issues
affecting the Internet, and its use, it won't have ultimate authority.

Gallagher said the compromise's ultimate decision is that leadership of the
Internet, and its future direction, will remain in the hands of the private
sector, although some critics contend that the U.S. government, which
oversees ICANN, if only nominally, could still flex its muscle in future

"The rural digital divide is isolating almost 1 billion of the poorest
people who are unable to participate in the global information society," the
agency said in a statement.

Ahead of the summit, rights watchdogs say, both Tunisian and foreign
reporters have been harassed and beaten. Reporters Without Borders says its
secretary-general, Robert Menard, has been banned from attending.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may
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