: The U.N. backed off its attempt to nationalize (internationalize?) the Internet away from us. Says the Washington Post:

In a last-minute meeting before the start of this week’s World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva, representatives set aside a brewing debate over whether national governments, rather than private-sector groups, should be in charge of managing and governing the Internet around the globe.

UN member states instead will ask Secretary General Kofi Annan to put together a panel of experts from government, industry and the public to study the issue and draft policy recommendations before the high-tech summit reconvenes in Tunisia in 2005.

“Essentially this amounts to saying: Look, let’s see what the problem is, rather than [suggest] any solution,” said Nitin Desai, the special adviser to the secretary general at the summit.

What a unique approach.

: Focus has an inteview with UN Secretary Sashi Tharoor, who’s running the meeting. Amid a few loaded questions from Focus (about globalization and “Internet colonialism” Tharoor says (German here):

We’re experiencing a revolution…. But the information revolution is different from the French revolution. It brings us much liberty, but only a little fraternity and no equality.

No, the Internet is, at its basis, the most egalitarian possible technology: a connection and free software and you’re part of the global future.

: I got this email from reader Richard Gardner:

I listened to “The World” on PRI (NPR) the afternoon covering this topic, and got very irritated. It was obviously a bunch of UN bureaucrats realizing they were becoming unnecessary (ITU), and scrambling to preserve their self-importance and jobs. If they don’t take over the Internet, their cushy jobs will be gone…. The PRI show was about the ‘digital divide” and had some guy running an internet cafe in Ghana complaining…

Therefore, the blame is on the Western World keeping down the poor folks of Ghana. Er, why are computers more expensive? Because their government puts massive duties on all imports, particularly technology imports (not mentioned, of course)…. And the reason that there is no fiber-optic to the country is that the local government-owned telecom is a slush fund for the local politicians (folks might use internet telephony to contact those relatives who have managed to escape the misery). So blame the West.

: The Internet is — pardon this limited reference — like a telecommunications communion table: open to all who would come and open themselves to it. Nobody’s keeping anybody off the Internet — except various of the totalitarian regimes joining that U.N. conference (starting with Iran) who are keeping their own people off the Internet for fear of what a free flow of information and ideas can do to their dictatorships. It is up to local governments and business and education to encourage use of the Internet.

In the Focus interview, Tharoor says, for example, that there is no worldwide digital divide for India. He tells the story of a technology company in New Delhi that backs onto a slum; the broke a hole in their wall and put a computer and mouse there and children, with no teachers, learned how to download music and get sports scores from the web. India has Indian-owned technology companies and Indian know-how and Indian education. When Rafat Ali was in India recently, he was getting better mobile connectivity than I can get from my neighborhood.

: So it’s not a matter of the big, bad U.S. and the West again trying to keep anybody from anything. It’s not a matter of the U.N. being able to improve a damned thing.

It’s a matter of local governments and institutions joining the future.

And if the U.N. really wants to be helpful, why doesn’t it shame Iran and China and Cuba and North Korea and Libya (and the list goes on) into opening up the Internet to its citizens.