originally published 14 November 2005 in
The Internet is a worldwide resource, and governance needs to be international. Today, the United States oversees the Internet because of historic reasons. Internet governance is one of the key issues to be discussed at the U.N. World Summit on the Information Society, which starts Wednesday in Tunisia, and debate will be contentious.
Currently, the U.S.-backed Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers controls the Internet. ICANN is authorized for this purpose by the U.S. Department of Commerce. ICANN governs the Internet through its control of all top-level Internet domain names, such as usatoday.com, and Internet addresses. ICANN has been controversial since its inception, although it does a good job.
There are valid arguments for U.S. control of the Internet. The United States essentially "invented" the Internet by funding its early development and hence controls it. These historic reasons are understandable, but they are not valid moving forward.
The Internet has fundamentally changed. A little over a decade ago, it was U.S.-centric and entirely non-commercial. Today, its scope is truly international, and its economic importance is enormous and growing.
Internet history has little bearing on current and future realities. There are certainly dangers of over-bureaucratization if an international body assumes governance. Last month, I decided to get a new Internet domain name, and within 10 minutes I was able to check on availability and buy the domain for less than $20. Will this be possible in the future if the U.N. or anyone else is in charge? This is an open question, but these same dangers exist with the current U.S. governance because of the Internet's rapid growth.
It is the height of arrogance for the United States to insist on maintaining control of the Internet. The Internet is global in impact and use. It is tied more every day to worldwide commerce. The United States could just as well demand that the world denominate all financial transactions in dollars, try to cure cancer by outlawing it, or claim Uranus as sovereign territory; all are absurd.
Ted Demopoulos is a 25-year veteran of the Internet and co-author of Blogging for Business, a forthcoming book on the next wave of the information revolution.
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