Control of the Internet

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The internet is managed by a non-profit organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which reports to the US Commerce Department. The UN Working Group on Internet Governance and the European commission are attempting to ease control of ICANN away from the US and place the internet's underlying infrastructure on an intergovernmental basis.


-Clinton administration's decision to progressively privatize the internet's domain name and addressing system
- Expiration of the agreement between ICANN and the US Government expires
-The courts of California alone are certainly not best placed to handle legal challenges originating from all continents of the world
- People are increasingly seeing the value of the Internet
- Anti-US sentiment
- Anti-US unilateralism
- Globalization
- Internet is big business
- Precedence (e.g. UN coordinates global telephone system)
- Fear of US technological strength that could lead to domination


-Threats to the stability, security and openness of the internet
-It is difficult to reach agreements between countries in cross-borders disputes
- US will fight to keep control
- Some countries (i.e. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba) could inhibit Internet’s progress due to the internal barriers they have created to Internet usage
- Fast pace of innovation could be jeopardized by the politics and bureaucracy which typify UN agencies
- Poor countries are the ones most against ICANN (and probably have less influence economically and thus politically)
- US control has contributed to development of Internet


Although the internet is decentralized and hard to control, the infrastructure that ICANN manages represents the few levers that governments have to impose control should they choose to do so. Also at stake is money: registering domain names generates about $1 billion annually and assigning new domains—think .web or .sex—is a power over very lucrative assets. The uncomfortable reality for most countries is that US control of the internet's domain name system and its spread through the private sector has contributed most to the development of the internet. US officials say they “fully support” the UN process. But the country's conspicuous absence from the Working Group on Internet Governance gives it leeway to distance itself from recommendations, or discredit it. Nevertheless EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding urged US President Obama to agree to a "more accountable, more transparent, more democratic and more multilateral form of internet governance" when the current agreement between ICANN and the US government expires on 30 September this year Since all people, companies, bodies or organizations affected by ICANN decisions should have a right to request full judicial review of ICANN decisions by a small, independent international tribunal


1998: ICANN formed

Nov. 23, 2004: First meeting of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance

Nov. 2005: UN Working Group on Internet Governance’s report due

2006: ICANN expected to become completely independent of US government

Web Resources:

UN Press Release on the Working Group on Internet Governance

World v Web: Controlling the Internet from the Economist

ICANN (Internet Corporate for Assigned Names and Numbers)

World Summit on the Information Society

Swiss Fudge: Internet Governance from the Economist

Time for UN Intervention?: Internet Regulation from the Economist