By David Lawsky
The European Commission on Friday took a swipe at U.S. oversight of
the Internet but offered no concrete alternatives, in advance of an
international summit on how the Internet should be run.
A U.N. report has proposed a multinational approach as a more
democratic and clearer way of running the Internet.
The controversy centers around the Internet Corporation for Assigned
Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based non-profit company set
up in 1998.
ICANN doles out Internet suffixes such as the familiar .com, country
suffixes such as .uk, and newer suffixes such as .tv, .biz or .eu. It
authorises changes to the "root zone file," which matches those
domains with numerical addresses, but ICANN has refused to allow
either .xxx or .sex and has refused to discourage spam and other
questionable or illegal uses of the net.
The U.S. Commerce Department has ultimate control of the root zone
file, and Washington made clear recently it intends to maintain that
The U.S. Commerce Department was expected to surrender its control of
ICANN, but said in July it would "maintain its historic role in
authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone
EUROPE CRIES 'FOUL'
Europe cried "foul," arguing Washington changed the rules of the game
and plans to keep permanent control of the system.
"There was an agreement that the Department of Commerce control would
be phased out but this summer the United States announced they would
maintain this oversight function," a Commission official said.
A second European official added: "We just say this needs to be
addressed in a more co-operative way ... under public policy
Both officials asked not to be identified.
The European Union will try to reach agreement at the World Summit on
the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis on Wednesday and Thursday. But
the United States has said it will not agree to any changes.
As matters stand, for example, if a country wants to change some
aspects of its national top level domain, such as .nl for the
Netherlands, that decision must be approved first by ICANN and then by
a Commerce Department official.
The European Commission wants to take the Commerce Department out of
the loop, but it is vague about what should replace that.
Pressed, European Commission officials referred reporters to its
principles, which say that "the role of governments ... should be
mainly focused on principle issues of public policy, excluding any
involvement in the day-to-day operations."
But to American ears that sounds like replacing what they call the
"light touch" of American Internet regulation with potential
interference from upwards of 200 countries. But European Commission
officials say that 'light touch' ICANN seems to prefer should be
at least tightened just a little, to firm up attitudes prevalent
"We don't really see how an organization can have oversight and final
veto control and not have an impact on day-to-day activities," said
David McGuire of the non-government Center for Democracy and
Technology in Washington, D.C.
"We don't think it's optimal for any government to be directly
involved in the oversight management," of ICANN.
He said the U.S. government has never reversed an ICANN decision and
eventually the organization should stand on its own two feet.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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