US makes about-turn on Internet directories

The U.S. government no longer plans to relinquish control of the root servers in the Internet DNS.

The U.S. government, in an unexpected about-turn, intends to indefinitely retain control over parts of the Domain Name System (DNS), the system that converts human-readable Internet addresses into computer-readable numerical addresses. Such addresses are used to direct traffic to Web sites or to deliver e-mail to the correct server.

"Given the Internet's importance to the world's economy, it is essential that the underlying DNS of the Internet remain stable and secure," and for this reason the U.S. aims to "maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file," which is part of the DNS infrastructure, according to a statement published Thursday on the Web site of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Several years ago, the U.S. government put the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in charge of managing the 13 root name servers that serve as the Internet's master directories, telling Web browsers and e-mail programs how to direct traffic. Now, following Thursday's announcement, the U.S. appears determined to retain control.

The announcement is a departure from previous U.S. strategy, which indicated that the U.S. government would someday relinquish its control over the root name servers.

Reaching out to the global Internet community, the U.S. government said it recognizes that governments have a legitimate interest in the management of their country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) and that it will remain committed to working with them to address all concerns, but all participants should bear in mind "the fundamental need to ensure stability and security of the Internet's DNS."

The announcement comes as talks continue on the heated issue of Internet governance in the run-up to the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which will take place in Tunis, Tunisia, from Nov. 16 to Nov. 18. The summit is hosted by the United Nations.

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