World Summit is wholesale triumph

If you listen to the organisers...


Geneva They’re packing up the RFID detectors at Geneva’s Palexpo conference centre as the first meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society grinds to an end. Everyone will be back again in 2005 for the second stage in Tunisia, but for now the delegates, diplomats, hacks, liggers and hacktivists (even the ones who are here using fake ID to show how insecure the place is) are off to the airport, the nightclubs or the streets.

All ended peacefully, despite initial worries that the Summit’s declaration of principles and the associated action plan for government would be abandoned because of disagreement over some of the more controversial ideas – like support for free software, a robust defence of freedom of expression, a suggestion that the governance of the Internet should be taken away from ICANN, and a request for the rich countries of the world to put some money into a special fund to help poorer ones cross the digital divide. The Declaration was unanimously endorsed, the Plan was adopted, and all is set for another triumph in Tunisia.

Except that the final versions of the two key documents had been effectively gutted by the rich and powerful countries, none of which wanted to see their own interests threatened by proposals which involved them giving up power or influence, or having to reach into their coffers. So the governance of the Net is to be looked at by a special working group, which has two years in which to decide to do nothing. And a task force – we’re not quite sure if this is more or less important than a working group – will spend the same time reviewing existing ICT funding mechanisms and deciding if a voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund is a good idea.

Apparently this is OK, because everyone agrees on the need to get every village in the world connected to the Internet by 2015. They may be paying over the odds to some grasping Western telco for the privilege, and using Microsoft software which comes with a restrictive licence, but they will all have joined the information society.

Those who expected little were not disappointed. It will only be the naïve idealists who believe that the governments and people of the rich world really care about the interests of the poor except as a source of raw materials, low-paid labour, and cheap back office services who leave Geneva feeling let down and saddened. The rest of us arrived cynical and leave feeling vindicated.

But not even the hardened hacks could suppress a small smile at the final press conference when the ITU’s Yoshio Utsumi, the summit’s Secretary-General of the whole event, said that “there had been no demonstrations against the summit, meaning all stakeholders could express their views”.

Because we all knew that there were no demonstrators or protests outside because what the politicians and diplomats have been up to here for the past three days really doesn’t matter at all. ®

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