The World Summit in Tunis last month was overshadowed by the global argument over internet governance.
Its biggest controversy came with the proposition put forward by the EU a month earlier that there be a new inter-governmental body that oversee ICANN. The US government - which currently enjoys unilateral control over the internet infrastructure - was furious and launched an enormous lobbying campaign, both public and private, across the board to retain its position.
Most significant among all those lobbying efforts was a letter sent from the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to the UK foreign minister Jack Straw acting in the role of presidency of the EU.
In the letter, Rice used strong language for a diplomatic missive, to stress how seriously the US administration was taking the issue and how determined it was to retain ICANN in overall charge of the internet. European diplomats privately confessed that the letter had a significant impact on their position.
The result was that the EU never raised its inter-governmental forum again in World Summit meetings, and the end agreement stuck with the US position.
This is the first time time the full text of that letter has been published:
7 November 2005
The Right Honourable Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, London
Dear Foreign Secretary,
The governance structure and continued stability and sustainability of the Internet are of paramount importance to the United States. The Internet has become an essential infrastructure for global communications, including for global trade and commerce, and therefore we firmly believe that support for the present structures for Internet governance is vital. These structures have proven to be a reliable foundation for the robust growth of the Internet we have seen over the course of the last decade.
As we approach the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), we should underscore the vast potential of the Internet for global economic expansion, poverty alleviation, and for improving health, education and other public services, particularly in the developing world where Internet access remain unacceptably low.
The Internet will reach its full potential as a medium and facilitator for global economic expansion and development in an environment free from burdensome intergovernmental oversight and control. The success of the Internet lies in its inherently decentralized nature, with the most significant growth taking place at the outer edges of the network through innovative new applications and services. Burdensome, bureaucratic oversight is out of place in an Internet structure that has worked so well for many around the globe. We regret the recent positions on Internet governance(i.e., the “new cooperation model”) offered by the European Union, the Presidency of which is currently held by the United Kingdom, seems to propose just that - a new structure of intergovernmental control over the Internet.
The four principles the United States issues on June 30, 2005, reinforce the continuing U.S. commitment to the Internet’s security and stability, including through the historical U.S. role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file. At that time, we also expressed our support for ICANN as the appropriate private sector technical coordinator of the Internet’s domain name and addressing system. We believe that ICANN is dedicated to achieving broad representation of global Internet communities and to developing policy through consensus-based processes. We have also expressed our interest in working with the international community to address legitimate public policy and sovereignty concerns with respect to country code top-level domains (ccTLD). We wish to underscore that, in our statement of June 30, we supported ongoing dialogue on issues related to Internet governance across international forums.
The United States and the European Union have long worked together toward the goal of global access to the Internet. The WSIS offers us the opportunity to reaffirm our partnership to spread the benefits of the Internet globally. At the same time, the security and stability of the Internet are essential to the United States, the European Union, and to the world. We firmly believe that the existing Internet system balances the stability and security we need with the innovation and dynamism that private sector leadership provides.
The history of the Internet’s extraordinary growth and adaptation , based on private-sector innovation and investment, offers compelling arguments against burdening the network with a new intergovernmental structure for oversight. It also suggests that a new intergovernmental structure would most likely become an obstacle to global Internet access for all our citizens. It is in this spirit that we ask the European Union to reconsider its new position on Internet governance and work together with us to bring the benefits of the Information Society to all.
Carlos M. Guiterrez Secretary of Commerce
Condoleezza Rice Secretary of State