TUNIS, Tunisia -- A U.N. technology summit opened Wednesday after an 11th-hour agreement that leaves the United States with ultimate oversight of the main computers that direct the Internet's flow of information, commerce and dissent.
A lingering and vocal struggle over the Internet's plumbing and its addressing system has overshadowed the summit's original intent: to address ways to expand communications technologies to poorer parts of the world.
There's a lot of angst about the rest of the world "taking control" of the Internet from the U.S. I share some of that concern, given the total disregard for free speech that exists in so many countries and the ITU's record of cloddishness in its regulatory approach. (Tunisia, with its fairly repressive regime, seems like an odd place to hold an "information society" gathering, but the UN does like to be inclusive, which is a good thing.)
This is a hugely complicated topic, involving things like which servers handle lookup requests; arcane regulation; and a lot more. But there's no question in my mind that an Internet a) controlled in serious ways terrible organizations such as the ITU; or b) turned into a bunch of local fiefdoms is not the way we want it to go. The signs are already emerging that the latter will happen, unfortunately.
If the Internet is to work we need everyone on it, including half-literate farmers in the African sahel coming to an internet cafe once a month when they take their goods to market.
We also need to keep it open and not degenerate into walled-off gardens like the bad old days of Compuserve, Prodigy, and only talking to those who subscribed to the same service.