US keeps control of the Internet

The United States has won the battle to keep control of the Internet. A last minute detail allowed the US to retain control of the domain name system through the non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) headquartered in California.

In return, the US has agreed to begin talks about potentially relinquishing some control and the long-term governance of the DNS. The potentially damaging split in the Internet was averted hours before the opening of the World Summit on the Internet Society in Tunisia on Wednesday.

The deal has lifted the threat that the world wide Internet may be split into a number of competing zones each with its own governance and technical specifications. Some countries, notably China, Saudi Arabia and Iran had demanded that the United States give up control of the DNS to a body under the auspices of the United Nations. They had argued that ICANN has been dragging its feet over implementing non-Roman character sets like Chinese and Arabic and the allocation of top-level domains.

However, the US feared that by allowing ICANN to come under the control of a UN body, the Internet and the DNS would start to become politicised. It argued that pressure would come from some countries to censor content they did not like. However, the US maintained that it would not allow the Internet to become subject to regimes that did not support the basic concept of free speech.

Europe appeared to be steering a mid line between the two opposing positions. Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media said she hoped ‘Tunis will mark an important step forward in theInternet’s long evolution away from government control and towards truly international governance.’

A new body, to be called the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has been established for an initial five-year term to hold talks on all Internet issues. These would not only cover the DNS issues but also those of international concern such as spam and computer crime. However, whilst providing an international forum to air issues, the body appears to have little real power to control the future direction of the Internet.

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