US prevails in Internet governance struggle

The United States has prevailed in the controversial fight over Internet governance and will retain overall control of the Internet's DNS, root servers and ICANN for the foreseeable future.

Rather than the new body or oversight body that many countries had been pushing for, a deal was finally struck that will see the creation of a new Internet Governance Forum (IGF) comprising governments and public and civil society but, crucially, will not have decision-making powers.

At the same time, governments also agreed to work within existing structures, meaning that plans to give part of the Internet's stewardship to another body were also stymied. Instead ICANN will remain in general overall control of the Internet and other countries will have - at the moment at least - work within its Governmental Advisory Committee.

The US government, of course, remains in overall control of ICANN and today the US government representative Michael Gallagher refused to say what would happen when its contract with ICANN runs out in September next year.

The only point that the US did concede was that the IGF would be allowed to review global domain names like dotcom, as well as country domains.

The politics aside, what does this mean for the Internet?

Very little in reality. Despite highly inaccurate press reports that moving overall control away from the US would impact on the Internet's security and stability, it has been agreed by every country in the world that the Internet's technical details will be left outside of political arena.

It was also highly unlikely that a new international body would have allowed for direct political control over the Internet's content or other public policy issues. Everyone does concede however that there is no real operational problem with the US remaining in charge - it is just that with the Internet such a global medium, foreign governments insist on being allowed a seat at the table.

What would be the advantages of an international body and a step away from the US-centric system we have at the moment?

A changed emphasis and perception that only other countries could provide. For example, the progress towards internationalized domain names - basically allowing countries to have Internet addresses in their own alphabets - has been painfully slow. The reason is because it is simply not a priority when the US speaks English.

Equally, the fact that all the different elements of the Internet governance system share the same culture, time zones and general outlook, they have been resistant to outside influence. In this ways, many practices that could be greatly improved are supported out of instinct and so allow to continue and fester.

There is a very strong US capitalist approach to the Internet, where companies are given priority in the expansion and evolution of the Internet. But in developing countries, it is not commerce but information that is the most useful aspect to the Internet.

Kofi Annan spoke Wednesday about women in African villages being able to sell the goods they make in Europe and the US. He also used the example of educational materials being made available to the people's of the world. And others vital lifelines such as telemedicine in remote areas.

But the US, for its own reasons, decided that its continued control of the Internet was a matter of utmost importance and because of that it fought very hard to retain the status quo. It achieved that. But it is only a delay in an evitable process toward an internationally owned and run Internet. The only reason the US does retain control is because countries realized that the value of it staying as a global network was worth more than political points-scoring.

In technical terms, however, tomorrow will be like any other day.

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Kieren McCarthy

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