Any questions for top UN officials on future of the Internet?

This Friday in Geneva I will moderate a panel of high level United Nations officials about their role in the future of the Internet.

The host of the conference, the International Telecommunication Union, is a UN agency that ranks among its goals to “promote the extension of the benefits of new telecommunication technologies to all the world’s inhabitants.”

Others on the panel include top officials from UNESCO, the African Telecommunications Union, the European Broadcasting Union, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the International Standardization Organization.

My focus: Are these organizations doing enough to promote and support the Internet?

Any sharp ideas or questions are welcome!

Details of my panel below, with link to full conference program here.

9.30am Friday Building the Information Society Together: What is the role of International Organizations in a convergent media world?

All organisations need goals, objectives, structures, and procedures. These are necessarily defined by the times when they are established. High-level representatives from international organizations will be invited to discuss how they are contributing to foster the convergence.

Moderator: Mr. Thomas Crampton, Technology and Media Correspondent for the International Herald Tribune

– Mr. Jéan Reveillon, Secretary General, European Broadcasting Union (EBU)
– Dr. Hamodoun I. Touré, Secretary General, International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
– Ms. Ruth Hieronymi, Member of the European Parliament, Committee on Culture and Education of the European Parliament
– Mr. Alan Bryden, Secretary General, International Standardization Organization (ISO)
– Dr. Akossi Akossi, Secretary General, African Telecommunications Union (ATU)
– Mr. Philippe Petit, Deputy Director General, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
– Mr. Mogens Schmidt, Deputy Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)


7 responses to “Any questions for top UN officials on future of the Internet?

  1. Tom,
    Here are some questions for your panel (impolite phrasings):
    ITU Sec-Gen:
    – Your organization is a vast, bloated bureaucracy built for the era of telegraphs and radios. The Internet is based on a system of voluntary, open standards, and voluntarily interconnected networks that use those standards. The ITU has played no meaningful role in the creation, development, or spread of the Internet. Given that all communications are now moving decisively toward the Internet as a converged platform for everything, shouldn’t the regulatory structures that grew on the old telecommunications infrastructure die as that infrastructure dies?
    – Other than continuing to help coordinate spectrum use, why should the ITU continue to exist? Why do you need to spend $150million/year?
    – Isn’t a one-country-one-vote treaty organization (US and China get same vote as Vatican City and Liechtenstein) perfectly unsuited to play any role in a dynamic, thriving-because-unregulated environment like the Internet?
    – Taiwan is an important player in the global Internet, with high Internet use, fast connections, many entrepreneurial firms. Yet the ITU has rejected Taiwan as a member, and refuses to allow Taiwan to participate in its activities. How can the ITU claim to be a truly global organization for the Internet era while taking a highly politicized position on Taiwan?
    – Shouldn’t the ITU be part of the fight against censorship in places like China and Iran?
    – In places like Silicon Valley, the ITU is seen as a lumbering dinosaur trying desperately to justify its continued existence by sinking its claws into the Internet. For example, by taking over the functions of Internet organizations like ICANN. That effort appears to have comprehensively failed. Have you given up on taking over ICANN?
    – Do you believe that overprotection of “intellectual property” is just as bad as under protection?
    – Why does the world need more intellectual property rights, as in the Broadcast Treaty? Does the pace of innovation in the US (which has strong, flexible “fair use” rights) suggest that there should be more flexibility, rather than expanded scope, in intellectual property rights?

  2. Greetings – I am getting several mails lately in my inbox asking if I know someone to help out with a UN project, or input for panel or ideas for a panel in Geneva, etc.

    Its great to get these calls through community networks, thanks.

    I would like to work as a consultant for the UN and associated organisations, on all the projects where I can bring knowledge and expertise.

    But nowhere on their website I can see open calls for project managers and leaders or team members or partners or contributors etc.

    I would like to know how can we, internet consultant and pioneers, can make an active professional contribution to the variours UNinitiatives. There seems to be a thick layer of impenetrable bureaucracy around the UN contracts networks, and surely the internet can help mediate direct access to different communities, when properly set up.

    Look forward to being in touch with the UN directly at the first opportunity.

  3. 1. Question: In the current global political climate, where governments around the world are censoring, banning and even jailing bloggers for presenting news and opinions not generally seen in the mainstream news, what (if any) immediate steps can be taken by the UN to ensure the bloggers’ right to free speech and their personal safety/freedom?
    2. Question: Does the UN support the right of governments to ban and censor web sites and web logs under the reasoning (excuse) of the “War On Terror”?
    3. Question: Will the UN be willing to fund/facilitate large scale programs in third world countries to provide free access to the internet (for educational purposes) for low income communities / groups/ schools?

  4. One question: you could ask the UNESCO folks about the McBride report (let me know if you dont know what it is and if you want a full copy) and, whether many of its conclusions about global media inequality have been proven correct, and whether the Internet may provide solutions that are less upsetting to the U.S. and UK than the solutions proposed back in 1980. In other words, to what extent was the McBride Commission really correct in concluding that market forces alone are not sufficient to foster responsible global media coverage required if we are ever to have an informed global citizenry… and to what extent should the international community be doing more to facilitate a more even spread throughout the developing world of Internet technologies, tools and skills that will enable all people around the world to speak and be heard more equitably?

  5. 1. Can you ask what they feel has happened within the UN that the vision projected at the
    the World Summit on Information Technology (WSIS), especially the Tunis meeting appears
    to have been abandoned at the UN? The vision is of a world where anyone anywhere in
    the globe who wanted affordable Internet access could have it and could thereby communicate
    with people elsewhere around the world.

    What is being done at the UN now to carry forward the vision and spirit of the Tunis WSIS meeting?

    What do they think UN organizations can be doing?

    What would they like to see the UN doing?

    2. The Internet was built by a grassroots and scientific process. Relatively little money made it possible to do forefronts research creating a new means of communicating. Is there any way the UN can learn from the history of the development of the Internet the lessons for how to continue it being spread around the world?

    Are there any means being taken to learn and spread the lessons of how such grassroots and scientific processes are a means for development?

    (We presented a session at the PPF side event in Tunis about some of this history. It would be good to see the session done and expanded and lessons drawn from it toward the implications for the future of the Internet and its continuing development. “The Origin and Development of the Internet and the Netizen: Their Impact on Science and Society” )

  6. I would like to add a suggestion.
    I am coaching a number of African students and community leaders, and offer them web based infrastructure so they can reach their goals faster. I have done that as volunteer in a larger network but had to discover the promise of internet is still wishful thinking with internet penetration of 1 % in Africa. Students when at university can make a difference, but if people have to rely upon internet cafes, development will never work, as the Africans can afford the access time, or the opening hours don’t match their available free time.
    People are now kept in vicious circle of relying on aid, whereas many them are trying to set up a business.
    The UN could do one thing to solve this, create a Bottleneck fund, that sponsors internet access for these brave, hardworking people that really want to change their future. It’s doesn’t cost much, and will have huge impact. For more info on this idea and how to set it up, send a mail to

  7. Because I am an Indian so I would restrict my question to UNESCO’s role in promoting internet in my country.

    As is the fact that India holds huge advantages over other countries in the field of IT due to its high quality education in English.

    Though scores of skilled Indian professionals are running the global IT industry, the potential is still tremendous in India for providing more professionals in this field. There are numerous talented students still without any access to internet connectivity (no computer also in most of the cases) who with proper opportunities will be able to provide a lot towards further development of the internet (IT) in India and the world as well.

    So, my question is: what plans does UNESCO have to promote internet usage in India amongst the potential yet poor students?

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