The continued control of the internet's organisational structure by the US government - in particular the Bush administration - could result in the splitting of the Net, one of the leading Arab internet voices has warned.
CEO of the Multi-lingual Internet Names Consortium (MINC) and member of the recently created international advisory committee for internationalised domain names, Khaled Fattal, made the warning in a letter [pdf] to the heads of internet overseeing organisation ICANN.
The US government's "de facto monopolistic control" over the internet combined with the "serious and growing unpopularity of the Bush administration internationally" could "lead to serious forms of balkanisation", Fattal warned.
The letter was sent soon after the first series of meetings of the ICANN Presidential Advisory Comittee on IDNs at ICANN's meeting in Vancouver last week. That committee hopes to find a solution to the thorny issue of how to make the internet readily available in languages other than English and those based on the Western alphabet.
Four billion out of the six billion people on the planet use a non-Western (ASCII) alphabet, Fattal stressed. Everyone recognises the need to make the internet more of a global medium, especially with efforts in China and elsewhere starting to step outside the existing internet infrastructures to provide the services they want. At the Vancouver ICANN meeting, the subject of IDNs popped up in every supporting organisation.
However, Fattal told us that he felt the issue of US government control had to be dealt with openly. It would be in everyone's benefit - including the US government's - to pool resources and create a multi-lingual internet in the same hub, he said.
But at the same time he warned that the "double standards" set by the US government - he cited in particular recent revelations that US president George Bush had considered blowing up the headquarters of Arab news station Al-Jazeera - had dealt the US' claims of freedom of expression on the Internet a "serious blow".
The ongoing situation - strengthened at the recent World Summit in Tunis - where the US government has oversight of ICANN and the infrastructural IANA function has "inadvertently caused serious damage to the standing of ICANN and IANA in the eyes of the international community", Fattal claimed.
The risk was that the "legitimacy of IDN effort so far be totally dismissed simply because of ICANN IANA ties to the US government".
ICANN is well aware of the problems for many across the world caused by continued US government control, and is pushing forward several reforms that will redress the balance for other world governments.
A new Internet Governance Forum (IGF), plus "enhanced co-operation" by governments within ICANN's Governmental Advisory Council (GAC) will contribute to a more international version of the current infrastructure. The creation of the IDN Presidential Advisory Committee - which Mr Fattal is a member of, should also address issues.
However, the warning is a timely remider of the strength of feeling that still exists and the challenges that ICANN, among others, face in the next few years.®