The second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) wrapped up here on Friday with an agreement on Internet governance and vows to benefit all people with information technology.
Following a series of meetings, delegates from over 170 countries adopted the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society and the Tunis Commitment on the final day of the summit, which kicked off on Wednesday.
"The most important thing of the Tunis summit is raising the awareness of the information and communication technologies (ICT), " Yoshio Utsumi, secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) told reporters at the end of the summit.
There has been a long debate over the management of the Internet as the United States wants to keep its control and the rest of the world want to share it.
After eleven hours of bargains, negotiators agreed in the agenda that the international management of the Internet should be multilateral and transparent, calling on UN chief Kofi Annan to establish a new forum -- the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), early next year to continue discussions on Internet issues.
The forum, to be convened in spring 2006 in Greece, will involve governments, stakeholders and civil society for further discussions on Internet governance, spam, cyber crime, privacy and other net-related issues.
The IGF is a major step forward toward the Internet management, said officials of the ITU, a UN agency specialized with global telecommunication services.
"It is a win-win deal," Tim Kelly, head of the policy and strategy unit of the ITU, told reporters, adding all governments are ensured to have equal footing over the issue.
"All governments should have an equal role and responsibility, for international Internet governance and for ensuring the stability, security and continuity of the Internet," said the agenda.
It also called for "enhanced cooperation in the future, to enable governments, on an equal footing, to carry out their roles and responsibilities, in international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet."
Since 1998, under the authorization of the US Commerce Department, Washington has controlled the Domain Name System (DNS), a key part of the running of the Internet, through Internet Corporation Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit company based in California.
The United States said it was happy because it still controls while other countries embraced the wording of final documents, which promised equal role and responsibility concerning Internet governance.
"We did not change anything about the role of the US government, " David Gross, coordinator of international communication and information policy in the State Department, said after the negotiations late on Tuesday. "It's very significant."
However, Yet Benhamou, a member of the French delegation, said that he saw it differently.
"What the US did not want was international cooperation on core resources of the Internet," Benhamou said, adding the agreement showed, for the first time, that "there is sovereignty in the Internet space."
Addressing the digital divide, the Tunis Commitment underlined the importance of removing barriers to bridge the digital gap, "in particular, in developing countries."
The summit welcomed a voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) as "an innovative financial mechanism" to transform the digital gap into digital opportunities for developing world.
The fund, which was launched in Geneva earlier this year, gained recognition in the Tunis Agenda as one means of finance.
So far, the DSF has raised 7 million euros (about 8.2 million US dollars).
Opening the Tunis phase of WSIS on Wednesday, Annan called on nations to show political will to bridge the digital divide.
But money remains a contentious issue, with many rich countries being cautious about providing more aid, arguing that developing nations should be looking at attracting more private investment.
"The challenge to the developing world is now to make sure they have the infrastructure, rules, legal processes and market systems to attract the investment of the technologies that we see on display at the summit," US Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael Gallagher said.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who spearheaded the fund said the fund will also benefit the West since millions of dollars could then be spent on buying ICT infrastructure and equipment from Western companies.
The Tunis summit completed a two-year process of the WSIS, which outlined the vision of an information society, in which everyone has access to the ICTs at the first phase held in December 2003 in Geneva and marched toward concrete actions to bridge the digital gap.
"It is not the end, just the beginning," Utsumi said, adding " the summit itself ended, but many, many meetings, action and partnership programs must start."
He stressed the importance of follow-up implementation of the Tunis commitment and Tunis Agenda to achieve the UN goal of bringing ICTs for all in an open and inclusive information society by 2015.