FYI: Economist on Internet Governance, ICANN, and WGIG

Robin Gross robin at IPJUSTICE.ORG
Mon Jul 11 15:16:15 CEST 2005

Internet politics

Eminent domain
Jul 7th 2005
 From The Economist print edition

In a pre-emptive strike, America decides to keep control of the internet

AMERICA created the internet. It also controls the key physical 
infrastructure that makes it work. For years, some other governments 
have wanted more say and have lobbied to put the internet under the 
auspices of the United Nations (UN). America's government seemed willing 
to give up its governance role, but planned to pass the reins to an 
industry self-regulatory group it set up. This plan did not satisfy 
those governments that wanted UN oversight.

On June 30th, the Bush administration brought matters to a head by 
announcing, unexpectedly, that after all it will retain its authority 
over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). 
This manages the internet's domain-name system of addresses, such as 
.com, and the underlying internet protocol numbers. This system—which 
runs on computers almost entirely in America—is critical to the smooth 
operation of the network. Many governments are apoplectic at what they 
see as yet another example of American unilateralism and plan to 
denounce it at ICANN's board meeting in Luxembourg on July 11th-15th.

America said it took this step to ensure the internet's “security and 
stability”. The main danger, in its view, was that other governments 
would muck it up. The policy was surely a pre-emptive strike against 
proposals from the UN's Working Group on Internet Governance, due in 
mid-July, most of which favour inter-governmental oversight of the 
domain-name system, preferably under the UN. “No single government 
should have a pre-eminent role in relation to international internet 
governance,” says a draft of the report obtained by The Economist.

Among the main supporters of UN oversight are some countries troubled by 
the globalising forces unleashed by the internet—such as China, Cuba, 
Saudi Arabia and Syria. America decided that the best way to keep the 
internet free from sinister political interference was for it to retain 
control. That may seem paradoxical, but businesses, at least, seem 
delighted. This week, the International Chamber of Commerce issued a 
statement urging the International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency, 
to keep its hands off the internet.

In theory, there is no reason why ICANN's monopoly on net names should 
be forever sacrosanct. Nothing prevents the creation of new naming 
systems alongside ICANN-sanctioned domains. Any country that dislikes 
American oversight is free to develop an alternative system with 
addresses it controls. Maybe that competitive pressure would even keep 
the American internet up to scratch.

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