A group set up by the United Nations to come up with a global plan for managing the internet said today that it has been unable to agree on who should do the job or how it should be done.
The Working Group on internet Governance instead came up with four rival models for overseeing the Web and sorting out technical and public policy questions.
In a report to be submitted to the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in November, the group also proposed creation of a permanent forum to carry on the debate.
To understand the problem, "you must recognise that the internet was set up largely by academicians for limited use, but has grown beyond anyone's wildest expectations, with nearly one billion users today," Markus Kummer, the working group's executive coordinator, said in a telephone interview.
At issue for the world body is who runs the internet and how it can better serve the world.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has long pressed industry, government and private interest groups to try to narrow the "digital divide" and ensure that people in poor nations have greater access to the internet.
The internet is now loosely managed by various groups. The internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), for example, manages the domain name system and is under the control of the US government.
Helping set technical standards are the International Telecommunication Union, an international organisation; the private-sector-led internet Engineering Task Force, and the academia-oriented W3C.
Among the governance options put forward by the group were a continuation of the current system, creation of a world body to address public policy issues stemming from the work of ICANN, and creation of a body to address a broader range of public policy issues.
The fourth option is to create three bodies, one to address policy issues, one for oversight and one for global coordination.
The group also recommended a co-ordinated global effort to combat spam, or junk emails, and urged that law enforcement authorities respect the right to freedom of expression when they crack down on internet-related crimes.