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US Still Has Internet In Its Grip

November 19, 2009

According to participants at a recent internet governance forum, the Internet is still under the control of the U.S., despite a move by America to loosen its grip over the private corporation that administers the net.

The US Commerce Department and Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) made an agreement in September that created panels to review the work of ICANN in key areas, in a move designed to bring more accountability to the body.

But delegates at the Internet Governance Forum, which closed on Wednesday, said the body still exercised too much control, and some called for it to be replaced with an international body.

Keisuke Kamimura, senior researcher at the Center for Global Communications, International University of Japan, told AFP, “The US still has a strong stake in ICANN, as far as stakeholderism is concerned. Regarding accountability and transparency, they have identified it as an issue to be reviewed, but more needs to be done.”

“The US still has a key to the back door” when it comes to Internet administration, Kamimura adds.

The review panels will include representatives of governments other than the United States, in response to calls for making the body more global.

“We, the people of the developing world, are there,” says Fuad Bajwa, a member of the United Nations IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group and a member of ICANN. Bajwa told the forum the developing world needed to be more strongly represented.

“From my experience in ICANN, I saw less staff members from my part of the world,” said the Pakistani delegate. “I saw less board members from the developing world.”

One Chinese civil society group called for the body to be scrapped altogether.

Chencqing Huang, head of the Internet Society of China, says, “We want to have an international organization under the framework of the United Nations to replace ICANN.”

ICANN, a California-based non-profit corporation, manages the Domain Name System (DNS) that forms the technical backbone of the Web and allows website addresses, for example, to be typed as words instead of a series of numbers.

ICANN has operated under an agreement with the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration since 1998.

ICANN says it is a multistakeholder body.

The first applications were accepted on Monday for internationalized domain names (IDNs) in one of the most significant steps to making the Internet more accessible around the globe.

With the introduction of IDNs, scripts such as Chinese, Korean or Arabic will eventually be usable in the last part of an address name — the part after the dot, as in .com and .org.

Among the first to apply to have their country code for top level domains in their own scripts were Egypt and Russia.

One participant told AFP, “International pressure for the internationalization of the Internet is starting to bear fruit.”

But he said some countries, particularly countries not on friendly terms with the United States such as Iraq under President Saddam Hussein, or Syria and Sudan, “had difficulties in registering their domain names.”

The participant said, “Big decisions should not be unilateral but in consultation with the Internet community at large. The power and the veto is still in US hands.”

However, ICANN members insist that no country has ever been refused registration.

Jean-Jacques Subrenat, a board member of ICANN and former French diplomat, told AFP, “”There has never been a denial of a possible country code domain to a sovereign state.”

The IGF forum wrapped up four days of meetings on Wednesday in Sharm el-Sheikh where over 1,500 representatives of government, civil society and the private sector met to discuss the future of the Internet.

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