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<nettime> Who will own and control the Internet's infrastructure?
Ronda Hauben on Wed, 5 Oct 2005 10:52:56 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Who will own and control the Internet's infrastructure?

The struggle over who will control the Internet's infrastructure escalated last
week at a meeting in Geneva. Following is an article describing what is happening.
It would be good to see discussion about this as it is a significant development.


Who Will Control Internet Infrastructure?

At a recent U.N. preparatory meeting for the World Summit on Information
Society, the dispute widens


As the third preparatory meeting (Prepcom III) for the U.N.'s upcoming summit
about the Internet and its infrastructure came to an end, a dispute erupted over
whether the management of the Internet's names, numbers and protocols should be
controlled by one nation or by a multinational structure.

Brazil, China, India and several other countries insist on a change from the
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the entity created by
the U.S. government. The U.S. government insists on continued control of ICANN,
which operates under the charity laws of California.

Many governments believe that this is not an appropriate entity to protect those
who depend on the Internet for their economic, political and social needs around
the world. The stage is set for a difficult round of negotiations to determine if
an agreement can be reached to resolve this dispute in time for the 2nd World
Summit on Information Society (WSIS) to be held by the U.N. in Tunis, Nov. 16 to
Nov. 18.

A representative to the U.N.'s planning meeting for the Tunis Summit, Motlhatlhedi
Motlhatlhedi, who is Botswana's deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of
Communications, Science and Technology, described how several developing countries
support a multinational body to be in charge of the administration of the
Internet's infrastructure, rather than only the U.S. government.

"The general feeling was for a change, as no single country should have control
over the Internet," he said.[1]

Clarifying the nature of the dispute, the Brazilian Ambassador Antonio Porto
explained how the Internet has become a critical part of the political and social
life of his country: "Nowadays our voting system in Brazil is based on ICTs
(Information and Communication Technologies), our tax collection system is based
on ICTs, our public health system is based on ICTs. For us, the Internet is much
more than entertainment, it is vital for our constituencies, for our parliament in
Brazil, for our society in Brazil."

Given the nature of this critical resource for Brazil and other countries, Porto
asks, "How can one country control the Internet?"[2]

The U.S. representative to the talks, Ambassador David Gross, who is with the U.S.
State Department, maintained that the current management organization - ICANN --
should not be changed. He stated that "the U.N. ought not to be running the

Gross' position is that there can be some flexibility in what ICANN is doing,
particularly with regard to the country code domain names like "KR" for Korea, or
"US" for the United States, but that the current situation is desirable.

Pakistan's ambassador and chairman of the U.N. committee, Masood Khan, trying to
develop an agreement on these issues, welcomed the U.S. stand. "The U.S. has taken
a very clear position and has enunciated it and reiterated it both inside and
outside the conference," he explained. "And that has helped the process because
now everybody understands what the U.S. position is."[3]

Into this fray stepped the European Union. On Sept. 28, the EU introduced a
proposal for a change in who oversees and who is in charge of the Internet's
infrastructure. The EU position called for the creation of an international body,
but outside of the U.N., to oversee ICANN. The EU also proposed the creation of a
multinational entity to oversee and discuss issues related to Internet policy.

Under the proposal a cooperative entity would be formed from representatives of
governments, the private sector (i.e. corporations), and civil society
organizations (i.e. NGOs). Their proposal calls for the initiation of two new
processes, at the international level.

The 3rd WSIS preparatory meeting for the Tunis Summit made a breakthrough in
clarifying the nature of the problem of having one government exercise unilateral
control over the administration of the infrastructure of the international
Internet. As the UK/EU representative, David Hendon explained, ICANN is under "a
contract from one government, and the government advises it what to do. It's kind
of strange for governments to be advising a public sector body and for that body
to be doing things for the whole world under the instruction of one government."

While some progress has been made in understanding the nature of the problem,
there is as yet no solution.

The history of the development of the Internet contains valuable lessons toward
understanding how to create an appropriate entity to manage the Internet's
infrastructure. This history helps to understand the models that made possible the
successful development of the Internet as an international, public and inclusive
communications system.

Also, online discussion and debate about the problems of the Internet's
development by active Netizens has played a critical role in the continuing
development and spread of the Internet.[5]

While the WSIS process has made a good start at identifying a critical problem
needing solution, it has not yet recognized the importance of building on the
models and practices that have been developed in the evolution of the Internet
itself toward helping to shape its future.

1."Internet governance talks stall," Daily News Online, Sept. 29, 2005

2. Kiernen McCarthy, "EU deal threatens end to U.S. dominance of Internet,"
<http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/09/30/eu_deal_wsis=00> The Register, Sept. 30,

3. Kieren McCarthy, "WSIS: Who gets to run the Internet? United Nations conference
ponders net future," <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/09/28/wsis_geneva> The
Register, Sept. 28, 2005

4. Kieren McCarthy, "EU outlines future net governance",
<http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/09/30/eu_net_governance> The Register, Sept.
30, 2005

5. See for example, my proposal made to the U.S. government in 1998 before ICANN
was created, "The Internet An International Public Treasure: A Proposal" (PDF)

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