It is probably not an area we think about much as we surf the Information Superhighway for cheap holidays, the latest news and various pink bits, but who should actually “run” the Internet is an increasingly controversial question.
Currently global Big Brother, the US, has primary control since its Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) oversees the administration of the net’s addressing system. This has led to complaints from other nations – particularly developing countries – that the Yanks are slow to approve non-English domain names and a stranglehold cannot be maintained by one country.
Consequently, the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), a United Nations creation, was charged last week with coming up with a better system, but – like most international discussions – it has just broken up without coming to an agreement. Bloody typical.
In fact, not only has the WGIG not reached a definitive decision, it is split over no less than four different options. In short, these are: 1. No change, apart from widening Icann’s forum for international debate. 2. To create a UN body called the Global Internet Council to take over from Icann which makes up its posse from governments and “other stakeholders” (an unsettling term). 3. Booting Icann into a basic tech support role with an International Internet Council (no doubt yet another inevitable acronym) grabbing the reigns. 4. (and the most complex) Three new bodies are set up, the first handles the addressing, the second is a debating chamber and the third works on “Internet related public policy issues”.
Clearly, though the US funded much of the web’s early development, all these options demand a greater diversification of control and given that the Internet is a truly global phenomenon this makes perfect sense.
Tensions are rising, however. Last year China threatened to split from the Internet entirely so it could introduce Chinese language domain names. In response, the US government – being their typically sensitive, appeasing selves – responded to all discussions by saying it has no plans to give up any control whatsoever.
Talks are expected to conclude in November when a second summit takes place in Tunisia. Expect no one to be happy with the inevitable compromise. (That’s how politics works, right?!)