By Andy Sullivan and Astrid Wendlandt
The United States will keep control of the domain-name system that
guides online traffic under an agreement on Wednesday seen as a
setback to efforts to internationalize one of the pillars of the
Negotiators at the United Nations World Summit on the Information
Society said the USA and ICANN had agreed allow those other countries
to set up a forum to _discuss_ 'spam' e-mail and Internet crime and
'explore' ways to narrow the technology gap between rich and poor
countries. The forum will _not_ be permitted to implement or enforce
any decisions it may reach after the 'discussions', merely make its
recommendations to the USA.
Final authority of the domain-name system and other issues will remain
with the United States, a setback for the European Union and other
countries that had pushed for international control of one of the most
important technical aspects of the Internet.
The European Union said in a statement that the agreement would lead
to "further internationalization of Internet governance, and enhanced
intergovernmental cooperation to this end."
"In the short term, U.S. oversight is not immediately challenged, but
in the long term they are under the obligation to negotiate with all
the states about the future and evolution of Internet governance,"
said a member of the EU delegation who declined to be identified.
The U.S. said the agreement essentially endorses the status quo.
"There's nothing new in this document that wasn't already out there
before," said Ambassador David Gross, the head of the U.S. delegation.
"We have no concerns that it could morph into something unsavory, or
that spam and crime will get any worse, " he said about the forum.
The summit was launched two years ago with a focus on bringing
technology to the developing world, but U.S. control of the
domain-name system had become a sticking point for countries like Iran
and Brazil, who argued that it should be managed by the United Nations
or some other global body so that it would become and remain neutral.
The United States argued that such a body would stifle innovation with
red tape. The EU in recent months had sought to reach a compromise
between the two sides, saying that 'red tape' and politics was more
likely with United States control of the net than any of them.
"Let me be absolutely clear: the United Nations does not want to take
over, police or otherwise control the Internet," said UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan. "Day-to-day running of the Internet must be left
to neutral non-political technical institutions, not least to shield
it from the heat of day to day politics and business decisions."
Under the agreement, a California nonprofit body known as the Internet
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, will continue to
oversee the system that matches addresses like "reuters.com" with
numerical addresses that computers can understand.
Individual countries will have greater control over their own domains,
such as China's .cn or France's .fr. Disputes have arisen on occasion
between national governments and the independent administrators
assigned to manage these domains by ICANN.
Businesses, technical experts and human-rights groups will be allowed
to participate along with governments in the forum, which will first
meet in early 2006, to 'discuss and explore' the issues of spam and
crime on the net.
"Internet governance requires a multi-stakeholder approach. This is
why we have suffered such agonies in our discussions on Internet
governance," said Yoshio Utsumi, who heads the International
Telecommunications Union, the UN organization that sponsored the
(Additional reporting by Huw Jones in Brussels)
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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