European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, in an interview with Zdnet on 24 August, has come out against handing over control of the Internet to the UN. Kroes has been a vocal critic of ICANN and particularly the role of governments within its multistakeholder structure.
In her speech at the opening of last year’s Internet Governance Forum, in the wake of a near melt-down between governments and the board of ICANN over new gTLDs, Kroes warned that unless governments’ role was adequately reflected in ICANN’s structure, there is a danger that “lobbyists hijack decision-making, that private vested interests trump the public interest, and that some put themselves above the law.” Strong stuff, which seemed to signal a flirtation with alternative structures.
In Friday’s Zdnet article, Kroes makes it clear that she does not favour creating new structure (code for handing over to the UN), although she’s still conceding that there “may be a case for governments having more say in the way the Internet is run”.
Why the apparent softening of position? It’s all about WCIT, a UN conference that will take place in Dubai later this year. Last month, Dot-Nxt devoted anentire editionto WCIT (including some fine cartoons by my son Patrick Taylor), which gives valuable background on the conference and its implications [Ed: Dot Nxt sadly down, copy from WAYBACK MACHINE DOTNXT_winning_at_WCIT]. I wrote afor Dot Nxt’s WCIT edition [Ed. copy from WAYBACK MACHINE: DOTNXT_making_choice_ITU_or_ICANN], which I think might explain Kroes’ public support for the current structures.
When you’re looking at the alternatives proposed for Internet governance, you need to consider which governments are particularly keen on a change in the way things are run, and think about their record on Internet freedom, and innovation. ICANN is far from perfect, very far, but is it really bad enough to warrant lining up with Russia, China, Iran, and Syria to support a shift to the ITU. As Saki said “a man is known by the company he keeps”.
But my reading of Kroes’ statement is that she’s also throwing down the gauntlet to ICANN – if you want the Commission’s continued support you need to reform. The lady’s not for turning.
By the way, If your organisation is affected by Internet governance issues, it’s well worth signing up to Dot Nxt.