By Andy Sullivan
U.S. lawmakers are urging the Bush administration to resist a push
from other countries to shift control of the Internet to the United
Nations, arguing that such a move would stifle innovation and free
"Is it going to become a vehicle for global taxation of domain names?
Are you going to allow folks who have demonstrated a pattern of
suppression of content, are they going to be put in charge of running
this thing?" said Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman , sponsor of
a Senate resolution that calls for the Internet's core addressing
system to remain under U.S. control.
Coleman's resolution, along with similar remarks by senior lawmakers
in the House of Representatives, should give a boost to
U.S. negotiators as they prepare for a United Nations summit in
Tunisia next month where the issue will loom large.
Though no one country controls the Internet as a whole, the U.S.
Commerce Department maintains final authority over the domain-name
system that matches easy-to-remember names like "example.com" with the
Internet Protocol numbers that are assigned to each computer on the
That system is overseen by a California-based nonprofit group called the
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
If other countries refuse to recognize ICANN's legitimacy, Internet
users in different parts of the globe could wind up at different Web
sites when they type "www.example.com" into their browsers.
Countries like Brazil and Iran have argued in a series of meetings
over the past two years that the Internet is now a global resource
that should be overseen by the United Nations or some other
The European Union withdrew its support of the current system last
The United States has made clear that it intends to maintain control.
In an interview, Coleman said a bureaucratic body like the United
Nations' International Telecommunications Union would slow innovation
and extend its reach beyond the domain-name system. Countries that
censor online content could use the forum to ban free expression
elsewhere, he said.
"I don't think this is mundane. I really think you're talking about the
future of the Internet here," said Coleman, a prominent UN critic who
has overseen a Senate investigation into the UN's oil-for-food scandal.
Since it was founded in 1998, ICANN has introduced competition into the
market for domain names and expanded the number of names available by
introducing new suffixes like .info and .biz. as alternatives to
standbys like .com and .org.
But the nonprofit body has also been plagued by infighting, charges that
it does not operate in a transparent manner, and the perception that it
is cowed by the U.S. government.
ICANN agreed to suspend work on a proposed .xxx domain name for sex
sites after the Bush administration objected in August.
Despite the nonprofit group's flaws, "I don't think anyone would argue
that there is any demonstrated effort to limit access, to control
content, to limit growth. If anything ICANN has overseen a tremendous
positive expansion," Coleman said.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Well, here we go again. I am anxiously
awaiting the usual round of hate mail I always recieve on this topic,
when I say _anyone but ICANN_ would do a better job of running things
than they. Typically, one or two readers will write and claim I am
suffering from a delusion; that ICANN has no real authority and it
isn't their fault that the Internet has gone to hell so badly in the
past few years and would I please quit kicking around Vint Cerf (the net)
for his half-assed and blatently prejudiced attitudes in the operation
of things around here. Even though large segments of the world, other
than USA have decided that ICANN and Mr. Cerf are not the best people
to run things (not by a long shot!), still there are a few people who
read this newsgroup and wherever else who think his operation is just
slendid, couldn't be any better, etc. That is, when they occassionally
agree with me that ICANN is where things are at around here.
But, people in Britain, France, Germany, the rest of Europe, Canada,
South America, China, Australia, here is a surprise for you: Mr. Vint
Cerf and his cronies at ICANN do _not_ intend to step down. They have
too good of a thing here to share with anyone else. I just wish that
some one or more persons with the wherewithal, ability and interest to
operate an _honest and legitimate_ system of roots with fairness in
mind for _all users_ (with appropriate contracts, etc) would take over
and drive those crooks out of business once and for all. PAT]