WASHINGTON – A global summit set for next week in Geneva is expected to provide the venue for a plan to put the Internet under United Nations control.

Developing nations – including China, Syria and Vietnam – are pushing for the U.N. or one of its agencies to regulate the Internet, perhaps as soon as 2005. Diplomats from more than 60 countries plan to take up the issue at the U.N. World Information Summit in Geneva beginning next Wednesday.

At issue are the operations currently run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, a California group that assigns Internet protocol addresses and oversees major domains, including .com, .net and .org. The group also helps set technical rules for how the Internet operates. Developing nations said their interests would be better served if the Internet were managed by an intergovernmental group, such as the United Nations or one of its arms.

The U.S., represented at the summit by Ambassador David Gross, the State Department’s coordinator for international communications and information policy, is opposing the plan.

The summit’s goal is to achieve consensus on a draft declaration of principles and draft plan of action, which reportedly includes a recommendation to place the governance of the Internet under the U.N.

“Standardization is one of the essential building blocks of the Information Society,” reads the most recent draft of the WSIS Draft Declaration of Principles. “There should be particular emphasis on the development and adoption of international standards.”

Leading the effort is China, which allows its own citizens online access, but only with government surveillance. China has so far been joined in its efforts by representatives of Syria, Egypt, Vietnam and South Africa. Other reports suggest Russia, India, Saudi Arabia and Brazil may be on board, too.

Critics of the global Internet idea say certain nations like China want to take away ICANN’s duties and place them under governmental auspices, along with increased control over security and content, placing freedom of press and individual freedom of expression at serious risk.

The summit is expected to attract more than 50 heads of state and 6,000 delegates who will address issues from the digital divide to Internet governance.

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