Who Really Owns the Internet?

It is almost as if recent headlines are holding a conversation. PCWorld asks, “Who’s Running the Internet?”

“US Retains Control of Internet – for Now” is the answer provided by CNSNews.

The immediate issue at stake was whether the United Nations should wrest control of Internet domain names from ICANN, but seriously deeper issues were being debated, too. From CNSNews:

In an outcome that has drawn mixed reactions, more than 170 governments at a U.N. summit in Tunisia have agreed to leave the U.S. effectively in control of managing the Internet, while also setting up a new Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to enable governments, businesses and other “stakeholders” to discuss public policy issues.

In response to the control issue, the LA Times is not in total agreement:

Not that the federal government wields much power over the Net. Its influence is essentially confined to the mundane but important issue of how domain names are assigned.

The BBC sees it differently, though:

In the days leading up to the Tunis summit, the US had loudly indicated that it was not prepared to make concessions.

Indeed, it adopted a very hard line by even questioning its commitment to independence for country-code domains such as Britain’s .uk domain.

Without a credible threat, the US was able to maintain its position and ultimately force everyone else to deal.

To be quite clear, any government (or private entity for that matter) has the ability to establish its own “Internet”, either by using the current technical protocols or by establishing new ones. There are no technological or significant economic constraints prohibiting any country or transnational group of people from seceding from the ICANNet. The obvious downside to such a secession would be the loss of benefits derived from association with the larger body — but that is always the price to be paid with any secession attempt, be it interpersonal, technical or governmental.

While I’ve certainly had some problems with ICANN over the years, the surrender of Internet name and numbering control to the United Nations is indeed scary. They managed to sneak in a new bureaucracy at this summit. As with all Leviathans, one can expect the IGF not only to discuss, but also to eventually regulate public policy issues. Any such regulation will necessarily mean a loss of freedom on the Internet. The BBC column clearly indicates one dismal future view of international Internet regulation:

Not only does the Tunis agreement address many global concerns, but it also points to the future of the internet governance debate.

Armed with these provisions, countries will look to the newly established governance forum as the venue to raise grievances and pursue continued reform.

Although the US suggests that the governance forum is non-binding and relatively powerless, it actually appears to look much like WSIS itself.

Both are multilateral, multi-stakeholder, non-binding, UN created, and able to address a wide range of internet and technology policy issues.

Notwithstanding its limitations, WSIS succeeded in putting internet governance squarely on the map.

As its obvious successor, the governance forum has the potential to emerge as the platform to allow for a continued emphasis on internet regulation concerns.

Delegates may have resolved the issue for now, but the debate appears to be far from over.

The implications are Orwellian, at best. Little Brother is already burdensome with respect to Internet regulation, and the global community wants place all the power in the benevolent hands of Big Brother. To turn even a miniscule amount of control over to the UN is tantamount to allowing Kofi Annan to take just a little bit of one’s virginity.

While ICANN may have a limited amount of control over how we arrive at our favorite Internet destinations, we go there voluntarily and they have no control over the content once we get there. To conclude the conversation between headlines, the LA Times could not have stated it better when it said, “Hands off the Net”!

  1. “The UN, screwing the world so you don’t have to” Now that’s funny. That’s exactly what we need, the UN in control of the internet. What is it now, the uninternet. Just like the unsanctions. We should have a .un base domain. http://www.hammeroftruth.un Right, I see a new internet coming, from another private company. Everyone changes over to them. The UN, i’m sorry, un with a piece of crap internet that has only red china hooked up to them.

  2. I don’t care which internet I’m using, as long as I can still download hours upon hours of videos involving midgets and college girls showing their tits on their webcams. But if I have to watch a Pepsi commercial before I can check my email, you’re going to see some desk lamps thrown.

  3. Kevin,

    I’d still prefer the advertisement (I still hit salon.com from time to time) to having free speech rights curtailed, as I’m sure would happen under UN auspices.

    BTW, if you are having to watch commercials to download videos, you are hitting the wrong sites, dude. :)

  4. AB,

    Pretty cool, two techy neologisms in one posting: “ICANNet” and “uninternet”. Mind if I shorten “uninternet” to the simpler “UNternet”? Perhaps we’ll be able to share the credit on the word origin.