Dr. Steven Dinero, a professor of human geography at Philadelphia University, attended the World Summit on the Information Society last month in Tunisia. He’s our guest on the CompuSchmoozeTM podcast this week.
CompuSchmooze December 2005: UN conference ends with compromise for Internet
By Steven L. Lubetkin
Copyright © 2005 Steven L. Lubetkin. All rights reserved.
WORD COUNT: 633
Advocates of the free flow of information on the Internet breathed a sigh of relief at the end of November, when the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia (http://www.itu.int/wsis/) ended with a compromise agreement leaving Internet governance in the hands of a US-based independent agency for the time being.
One proposal backed by China, Cuba, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, among others, would have moved the technical management of the Internet under the oversight of the United Nations. Critics, however, feared censorship of Internet content, monitoring of private citizen Internet usage, and a general reduction in the free flow of information on the net.
The compromise agreement reached at the WSIS conference leaves technical control of the Internet with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an independent, private-sector body. It also calls for creation of a UN forum for dialogue about the Internet, a UN press release reported (http://www.un.org/apps/news/printnews.asp?nid=16590).
A local professor who participated in the summit, Dr. Steven Dinero of Philadelphia University, indicated that the Internet governance issue was really a minor consideration for the 18,000 delegates to the conference.
Delegates focused more on learning how disadvantaged communities around the world were working to bridge the so-called digital divide between themselves and more affluent communities, he said.
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of the important issues were overshadowed by the controversy over Internet governance,” he said. He said many important issues that didnt get media attention, such as using technology effectively to reach out to people with physical and mental disabilities, were discussed in Summit workshops.
Dinero, a Cherry Hill resident and an associate professor of human geography, admits hes not a technologist. He attended the WSIS conference because of his $600,000 National Science Foundation grant that helped launch ArcticWays.com (www.arcticways.com), where Native Athabascans in remote villages of the Alaskan interior keep their cultural traditions alive by selling jewelry and other crafts over the website.
Many European governments attended the Tunisian WSIS meeting, and the Swiss delegation provided a very sophisticated high-tech presentation, Dinero said. Many Gulf Arab states like Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia were present, and so, surprisingly, was a large delegation from Israel.
Israeli delegations have been welcome at conferences like this in Tunisia for several years, Dinero said he learned from the Israeli delegates. Large Israeli flags at the Jewish states exhibit ensured that they got a lot of media and delegate attention, he added.
Dinero said representatives from less-developed countries with whom he spoke at the conference expressed frustration that much Internet content wasnt relevant to their societies and cultures.
The question less-developed countries are asking, according to Dinero, is how can we be participants in global culture, and the global economy, and global society, instead of just consumers?
Dinero said an important theme of the sessions he attended was that connectivity could lead to social and economic development would lead to better healthcare, education, and ways of helping less-developed communities.
Experiences shared by disadvantaged communities seemed to strike a responsive chord for attendees, especially when American Navajo Indians gave a presentation about their project to build a wireless network on the Navajo reservation, Dinero said.
Bridging the digital divide between affluent and poor communities may create the credibility for disadvantaged groups like the Navajo nation to be ambassadors to other less-developed societies, Dinero suggested.
In conversation with Joe Shirley, the Navajo tribal president, Dinero said he learned that the Navajos are being hired as consultants in less-developed countries like Brazil and Honduras. Navajo jewelry sold through e-commerce on the tribal website brings in about $1 million a year, Shirley told Dinero.