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.”