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David's trip to Frankfurt & Tunisia for WSIS


I attended the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis. I left the United States on November 10 and returned safely on November 21. On the way there, I had a 12 hours stopover in Frankfurt to visit with my friend Konstantin Koll. I have documented my trip on this wiki, so you can see what the WSIS conference was like and maybe learn a little bit more about Tunisia. While the trip is over, I may still flesh this wiki out bit by bit. You can email me suggestions, comments, and criticisms anytime.






Why am I going to this conference? I'm representing The Online Policy Group (of which I'm President) and the California Community Colocation Project (which I founded) to try and encourage participants to adopt an open, free speech centric Internet. I'm also going because I've never been to North Africa and I've got a rocking 12-hour stopover in Frankfurt on my way over that I'm already sure will give me a hangover.


The big-ticket issue at Tunis is not, unfortunately, going to be about bringing Internet to poor countries, which was the original point of this series of conferences. Instead, it's like to be about who has control over the Internet's governance, which is currently the US government's task. An alliance of several nations, including the EU, China, Cuba, and others, has indicated that they feel the Internet is ready for non-US control - the US government's harsh response (basically "screw off, we don't trust you guys a whit") has done little for international diplomacy. Then again, that's never really been this Administration's strong suit.


The Big Deal here is if this non-US alliance goes off and tries to make its own governing bodies that make their own decisions about DNS and perhaps IP allocations. This would be a Very Bad Thing. Going to "Amazon.com" in China might mean an entirely different thing than doing the same in the US. It might not even be run by the same company. New companies, organizations, and individuals might have to register the same domain names with several different bodies and under different conditions and terms.


I don't think very many people think that this is honestly a direction that the Internet should go. The US realizes that the cries from other nations are in this case largely a bluff and is calling them on it. And honestly, the US has been pretty good for the Internet. There is not a lack of anti-US commentary or free speech on the Net, dozens of new TLDs have been created, and overall the system hasn't had very many widespread outages or bureaucratic blockages. The sole example that opponents can produce is that the Bush administration ixnayed a ".xxx" domain for pornography. Annoying, but temporary. This decision won't break anything and will probably be rescinded come 2008. So while America has been doing a good job safeguarding the proper operation of the Internet, and the EU and others are likely bluffing, goodness if a little more tact about it wouldn't be appreciated. Who taught these leaders of ours how to "play with others"? We're not standing up to tyrants here, we're being tyrants. I do take solace in knowing that most folks around the world understand that not everybody voted for Bush.




You can now see all of my pictures on flickr, including my favorites.




  • Soccer Match - Tunis fans cheer the loss of the Sousse team to Egypt in the African Finals.
  • Fiancai - People dance and sing at a traditional Tunisian engagement party.
  • Medina - Walking down a busy street in Tunis.
  • South Africans - The South Africans had concentrated all of the fun of the conference in to their booth! No joke!




I was going to do some audio sets for Ken Radio, but couldn't find the time and the quiet places to do regular reports.



Wardriving Data


For you geeks out there, I did a little bit of wardriving / "warwalking" on my trip. Files are in NetStumbler format.


  • WSIS - The WSIS show floor; this is a fairly comprehensive scan of the wireless nets that were there (including a dummy net!)
  • Ebisu - A wireless scan at SFO International.
  • Frankfurt - A quick warwalk in Frankfurt.





Itinerary & Travelogue


Future dates have my plans for the day. As I update the site, they'll get filled in with what actually happens.


November 9


I'm packing, preparing, and making sure all my ducks are in a row! Scanned & GMail'ed myself (& relatives) copies of critical documents, like passport, ticket, and credit cards. This is a surer bet than carrying a photocopy IMHO. Verified a third time that Tunisia doesn't require a visa from a visiting American with a non-diplomatic passport. Printed my invitation letter to the Summit. Cleared out my camera's flash drive, recharging batteries. (I'll have to buy an adapter in Tunis.)


11:30pm I'm off to Karine's for the night. Bags are packed, electronics are with me, typing this is the last thing I do before I power off Sting (my laptop), shove it in my laptop bag and jet outta here. I have a laptop bag and my big hiking backpack full of clothes. I'll check my big bag so I don't have to lug it around Frankfurt. Hope it gets through to Tunis alright, but just in case, I've got a spare pair of underwear in my laptop bag. I may checkin from SFO, Frankfurt, or Tunis next. We'll see! :) CIAO!!


November 10



Flew out of SFO at 2pm for Frankfurt on Lufthansa.


November 11


Arrived Frankfurt. Partied with Konstantin and Sasha (a random guy from the plane who had read my website!). Met up with Paul Dale. Ate sausages, drank beer. Didn't sleep!



November 12


Arrived Tunis. A suprising, warm welcome! Conference is not going to be 1000 or 2000 people. It's going to be 17,000 people. Oh goodness.



November 13


A Tunisian engagement party, sweet things, Objectivism, and a football (soccer) match. The incredible kindness of the Tunisian people. Surviving riding in a car.



November 14, 15


Explored Tunis & Carthage. Hooka. Lablebi. Harissa. Egg sandwiches. The medina & souk.



November 16, 17, 18


At the conference.



November 19, 20


Visited Hammamet, Kerouan, and Sousse. Couscous dinner.



November 21


Leave Tunis in the wee hours for Frankfurt, one hour stopover, then back to San Francisco.





My time in Tunisia was enlightening and engaging. It was my first time in a dominantly Arab or Muslim nation, my first visit to North Africa, and the first time I've used a "find a room" service like CouchSurfing or Hospitality Club. I saw new things, tasted new things, made new friends, and heard new perspectives. I brought back memories, pictures, presents, and harissa. The trip, then, was a success.


The summit was a success in a very unintentional way. Nothing happened. This was good, since things are already on very positive vectors - Internet access is spreading and improving rapidly around the globe, thanks mainly to unregulated wired and wireless Internet access and the proliferation of cell phones. Computers are becoming cheaper and good software is increasingly available for free. Internet governance doesn't need fixing because frankly, nothing is broken with the current system; the lack of a cohesive and superior alternate plan never really emerged, which ended up hamstringing the anti-US coalition.


So really, it's good that nothing happened. Because when self-important politicians decide that it's time to "close the digital divide" and "use ICTs for development", they bungle things up badly; just as badly as I would if you asked me to build a boat or overhaul a V-8 engine. Politicians make for lousy technologists. Just believe in the free market, open up your borders, and invest in your people's education. The host country of the summit ironically ended up providing a very vivid example of what happens when you hold smart people back; I met brilliant people who wept for lack of opportunity to prove themselves, to learn to program, to just get their hands on some half-decent English books.


So I would recommend visiting Tunisia and I would recommend staying with people from CouchSurfing or Hospitality Club. You'll get a real feel for the culture and a taste for what the country is actually about, instead of just seeing the tourist sites.


But I would not recommend expecting UN meetings to end up producing comprehensible or useful results regarding the Internet.






Tunisia's the smallest country in North Africa. If Italy has a boot that's kicking a football, the net is Tunisia. All of the Star Wars desert sequences were filmed here! (One of the towns is called "Tatouine", after which "Tatooine" in Star Wars was named.) Folks speak Arabic and a fair amount of French, but not a lot of English, so it's probably a good idea to learn a little of one of these or grab someone who does. Thankfully, I know some French, and from my smattering of Farsi lessons, I can read and write Arab script...which is different from actually being able to understand what it's saying.




I used Hospitality Club to find a Tunisian roommate who will put me up for a few days in Tunis. This way, I get to stay for free, make some new friends, and see a whole other level of the culture that I wouldn't have visibility into otherwise. I'm looking forward to staying with my host J & his family! I'm a big fan of CouchSurfing, but they didn't have many "couches" available for "surfing" in Tunis, sadly.




I'm bringing my IBM T42 laptop, a Canon PowerShot S45, a Sony-Ericsson T610 worldphone (see TBD GSM worldphone), and a sense of adventure. :)




Tunisia's on GSM 900. Most worldphones should work well here. Internet is available in some places with 128/256kbps ADSL available for 40/80 US$ per month. Net cafes are available in spots, but access is pretty chunky, with up to 25% packet loss and second-long pingtimes to the US backbone. Dialup is cheap, but local calls (as in many countries outside the US) are toll. Dialup is actually much faster than the Internet cafes.




I actually wrote much of the software for pbwiki, which is what you're looking at right now. It's pretty easy to get set up with your own wiki if you'd like one. Just go to pbwiki.com.



Technical Notes


  • Turns out that Google Accelerator is massively slowing down everything for me when on crappy wifi. Turn it off and everything is *much* snappier. Oops.

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