The Internet governance debate isn't just a topic for diplomats, U.S. Ambassador David Gross told the conference here today. It's a critical cultural, economic and political issue, he said.
Gross is still positive about how this issue was dealt with at Phase 2 of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), at which proposals to "internationalize" Internet governance were defeated. Instead, a five-year charter was created for a discussion body to be convened -- but not run -- by the UN secretary general, which will allow any government or interested party to discuss a broad range of Internet issues. He saw this potential for dialogue as very important. But he saw more positives emerging from Tunis:
1. WSIS in Tunis explicitly endorsed the previous position taken in Geneva in 2003 that information flow should be free on the Internet. Gross said he's already used this unanimous adoption of close to 200 countries to call out countries not adhering to these principles. "It gives me a tool I didn't have before," but he said "I'm not naive" and he knows that censoring countries aren't going to stop "just because I ask them to do it."
2. It was "extraordinarily important" that Tunis endorsed the enabling of entrepreneurship on or with the Internet, permitting the continued economic growth stemming from the digital revolution.
Despite the good news, "vigilance is always important," Gross said. "This does not translate into 'This issue is no longer alive.'" Such issues always linger, he said, but now there is a forum for dialogue. The ITU in Geneva, however, will have their plenipotentiary this year, and they likely will ask if their scope incorporates this. This UN-affiliated entity has the right to ask this, he said. "Our view is that it already has a role to play with the Internet in network standards, etc., but should focus on core competencies such as spectrum management."
Asked what will come in the Internet governance debate in the next 5 to 10 years, Gross said he had a good reason to "dodge that question," because the Administration's approach is to make possible future progress but not to try to preordain that future. "We need to be flexible and go wherever technologies take us, to go wherever people's innovations take us." "I know this sounds unhelpful, but I really try to spend very little time wondering what the world is going to look like five years from now," he said, a strong contrast to when he was in the private sector.