A World Wide Web of People

Opinion: During a tour of the booths at WSIS, people and cultures inspire, while companies remain predictable.

TUNIS—By Thursday, the presidents and prime ministers departed the WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) Summit in Tunisia, and the main podium was turned over to ministers of information and technology and other lesser diplomatic personnel.

It is a good day to roam the booths of the organizations exhibiting here, which come in four basic flavors: countries, companies, NGOs and civil society groups.

The booths are located in big tents connected to the main hall. The air conditioning in the tents is more or less overwhelmed by the press of humanity coursing through.

Each countrys booth reflects its culture and dress. Sudans is quite striking, with women well covered and men sporting two distinctly different forms: a long flowing thoab (think Dominican Friar) with a colored head scarf or white turban; or western-style suits.

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While most Americans think of Sudan in terms of death and Darfur, the countrys booth addresses its fiber optic network, cell network and satellite service delivery.

The people are great.

Mr. Adiel Akplogan, a native of Togo and father of a 3-month-old baby, is typical of the best of the future of the Internet.

At the age of 35, he is now CEO of AfriNIC, the new continent wide IP registry for all of Africa. Akplogan was educated in both Europe and Canada, slips between English and French seamlessly, and now lives far from his native land on the island of Mauritus.

He has a computer engineering degree and is working on his new major in practical Internet diplomacy.

The company booths are more predictable. The large U.S.-headquartered multinationals such as Hewlett Packard, Intel, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and many others have pretty good spreads and predictably informative displays.

The civil society groups form a panoply of organizations. They range from rag-tag to well-appointed. Each has at least one or two booth people who are ready to pitch. Some sell computers for under $100 as a concept. Others sell gender-related solidarity.

My booth is quartered next to the ISOC (Internet Society), an increasingly important force for speaking truth in the evaluation of governance mechanisms; and ICANN (Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers).

I suspect ICANN just wishes everyone would leave them alone to spend their money from the recently settled VeriSign contract, and then continue their never-ending duty to make every constituency feel important and valued—even if they are not.

The NGOs, including too many UN organizations to mention, are scattered throughout the tent. NGOs range from really wealthy to really poor.

Some international aspects bring an almost comical side show quality to this gathering. Today, for example, I participated in an important press briefing in a partitioned room where people six feet from another had to go "Huh?" in six languages because they could not hear each other.

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After we finished, a group of us hopped a bus and then a taxi to visit the ruined baths of Roman Carthage, destroyed by the Vandals (hence the word vandalism). As the skies cleared, I stood and watched a rainbow appear over the ruins.

Arriving back at my hotel, I get back online to find the U.S. Congress has passed a resolution telling the world we will continue our collegial efforts to keep the Internet safe, and that the House of Representatives has voted 423 to 0 to give the WSIS the word to keep its hands off "our Internet."

This uniquely American finger gesture to the WSIS community should make for interesting conversation.

Attorney Stephen Ryan is a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP, and is registered to lobby for a number of companies in the high-tech industry. He is the General Counsel for several technology businesses including ARIN (American Registry of Internet Numbers) and the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, which brings satellite television, broadband and other services to rural America.

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