Who Owns the Internet

Over the next few days, thousands of people will gather in Tunis, Tunisia at the U.N.’s World Summit on the Information Society to debate the future of the internet.

One of the most contentious issues to be discussed is the “ownership” and “control” of the mechanisms that make up and run the internet as we all know it today. Internet conflicts of the future are struggles between powerful nations. International relations and internet policy are becoming indistinguishableConceived as a vehicle to bring technology to developing nations, the WSIS has been overtaken by the contentious issue of “internet governance” — in particular, the question of who runs the highest levels of the domain name system, the technology that maps name like “wired.com” into the numeric IP addresses the internet uses under the hood. […link…]

The Internet was invented as a concept in the US and since then, the US has had some sort of a stranglehold over the DNS registry which is the lifeblood of the internet

As the conference opens, the United States is battling back efforts by most of the rest of the world to internationalize control of the DNS, which is currently administered by the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned names and Numbers, or ICANN, an organization established by the Clinton administration in 1998, which is loosely supervised by the U.S. Commerce Department.

ICANN the agency which decides the rules and regulations regarding DNS, and implements them is

ICANN has an elected president and board with a decidedly international makeup, but the United States government still holds the reins — an arrangement that’s increasingly chaffing to other nations. Last June, a report issued by a special U.N. working group as part of the run-up to this conference concluded that “no single Government should have a pre-eminent role in relation to international internet governance” and that “some adjustments needed to be made.”

The big problem that other countries see is

At the heart of the dispute is the United States’ control of the “root zone file,” the master list of allowed top-level domains — currently numbering at nearly 300, including generic domains like .com and .info, and hundreds of two-letter county codes like .uk and .au.

Control of the root means that the United States could, in theory, wipe another country’s top-level domain out of the system for political reasons, leaving it largely unreachable to web and e-mail traffic. “Maybe countries that don’t support the war on terror are kicked off the internet, for example,”

The likely scenario of that happening is remote, but nevertheless exists.

That’s never happened, and even some critics of the status quo think it unlikely. But last June the Commerce Department met the growing international grumbling with open defiance, announcing that it would continue to keep control over the root zone in order to ensure the “security and stability” of the DNS. And in August, the Bush administration interfered with ICANN’s plan to create a new .xxx top level domain for internet porn, appeasing a U.S. religious conservative group that believes the new suffix would double the amount of adult content on the web, and proving that the current system doesn’t insulate ICANN from regional politics.

As one participant at this conference puts it.

“As long as the root is controlled by the United States, there’s this psychological feeling that the United States owns the internet,” says Wu. “It’s symbolic, but symbolic things can matter when it comes to questions of nation-state legitimacy.”

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  1. http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/internet/11/16/internet.summit.ap/index.html

    Negotiators from more than 100 countries agreed late Tuesday to leave the United States in charge of the Internet’s addressing system, averting a U.S.-EU showdown at this week’s U.N. technology summit.

    U.S. officials said early Wednesday that instead of transferring management of the system to an international body such as the United Nations, an international forum would be created to address concerns. The forum, however, would have no binding authority.

  2. mmm….how does the telephone work…or even a satellite system..both of those (to name a few) are global…i seriously thought the net belonged to no one (and everyone..)!!! good ol big bro-always around!!!

  3. I have a serious problem with giving up the internet to an “International” body – once the control is given up, what stops Syria from declaring Israeli sites hateful and pulling the plug on them? What if China decides that Chinese dissident sites and any criticism be wiped off the internet?

  4. Shanti, u r correct.

    China would be villian no. 1 in this. There have been enough stories around about how they block google and yahoo and other sites at their whim and fancy. What if at some point they are in a deciding position at this “international” body and decide to pull such a stunt on say, taiwanese sites ??

    Besides this one concern, I personally am all for an international body.

  5. Control of the root means that the United States could, in theory, wipe another country’s top-level domain out of the system for political reasons, leaving it largely unreachable to web and e-mail traffic.

    Bull, I say. If US is stupid enough to do this, market forces will force telcom and service providers to sidestep the prsent DNS roots. The DNS root file is not something etched in stone. It is a system that works because everyone agrees to use it. The day US tries to take drastic action like wipe up ccTDL, others will stop using it.

  6. Abhay, the US only controls the domain name servers – this means that technically any country can come up with its own servers and mandate its populace to use those and not the once controlled by the US. Simple enough.

    I, for one like and enjoy the freedom I have in expressing myself as I please on the internet and am extremely leary about giving up control to a body that might not be as vested in the freedom of speech as the US (even if only for commercial interest in the worst case).

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