The United Nations has lost its bid to take control of the Internet. That's a good thing, because it was a poor idea at every level. According to a CNN dispatch from a global summit in Tunisia, the U.N. based its argument on the need to close the "digital divide" that separates rich and poor nations. But it's hard to understand how U.N. control over domain names and technical issues would help poorer nations make fuller use of technology. The U.N. certainly hasn't been a factor in the growth of the Internet in the U.S. or Europe. And I doubt the U.N. has made a difference in Internet usage in China or India. In each case, the growth of the Internet has been linked to domestic economic, social and political forces. Transfering control of the Internet won't close the digital divide. But it would create more opportunities for repressive governments to crack down on the flow of information inimical to their interests. The CNN story ends with a grim reminder of how blunt, physical force is still used to restrain free expression. The story says:
"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."
Tunisia has just 12 phone lines per 100 people, compared to more than 60 in the U.S. and more than 70 in Switzerland, according to a 2003 report by the International Telecommunications Union. It's unlikely that Tunisia or any other developing country will close the digital or economic divide until it creates an environment where reporters aren't beaten. [note from editor: can we make an exception for you?] The thought of turning over management of the Internet to an organization like the U.N., which gives full voice to such regimes, would do nothing to close the digital divide or promote the free flow of information.
P.S. I'd link to the 2003 report, but the ITU, which is run by the UN, won't let me copy the address.