Finally, a sensible US press item on Iternet Governance! If more people focused on the paracticalities and less on chest thumping, we might even have an outcome in Tunis.
October 30, 2005
Worldwide but Homegrown
Some foreign governments are uncomfortable with the United States' controlling the nuts and bolts of the Internet. That is
understandable. So much of the success of the global economy depends on its smooth functioning and the United States has not been a model of receptiveness to other nations' concerns in recent years. There may be a multilateral solution down the road, but right now it is in everyone's best interest to keep control of the Internet where it was founded, in America.
American representatives will have a chance to ease the worries of
America's allies and even its enemies at a digital-world gathering in
Tunisia next month. It will take firmness, but also diplomacy.
Ideally, perhaps, a single nation should not control the essential workings of the Internet - notably the regulation of who gets which
name and what the various "dot" addresses mean. But United States control is working. One suggestion, to switch control to the United Nations, would mean too many cooks in the kitchen, with several of the most interested chefs being of the unsavory sort, like China and Iran.
China's model for the Internet includes filters, censorship and - recently, with the shameful help of Yahoo - surveillance leading to
Since 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers - a nonprofit based in California, but with an office in Brussels and an international board - has handled the complexities of domain names,
Internet Protocol numbers and other technicalities. That way, the rest of us can surf and shop in peace, certain to find our favorite online shops or entertainment, whether we log on in Des Moines or Timbuktu.
It has decided, for example, that this newspaper is to have the only
Web site called www.nytimes.com. The nightmare outcome would be a balkanized Internet, where countries or regions set up their own Webs, leading to duplicate sites, confusion and a breakdown in the effectiveness of the global network. Reasonable people do not want to take that path, so it should be easy to avoid.
That also means, however, no meddling by the United States government in Icann's affairs. The recent fuss over the possible addition of a new top-level domain name for pornographic Web sites - .xxx instead of .com at the end of a Web address - played right into the hands of would-be regulators at the United Nations. Opponents of .xxx, including the conservative Family Research Council, sent nearly 6,000 letters to the Commerce Department over the summer, protesting the proposal. The department sent a letter to Icann asking it to delay a decision.
Regardless of the pros and cons of a top-level domain name for
salacious sites (many pornographers, interestingly, are also against
it because it would make it much easier to block their Web sites), the department's behavior looks a lot like political pressure. That sends the wrong message to moderates in Europe on the issue of Internet control. The United States should not give even the appearance of improper lobbying. If Americans cannot trust the system to run itself, they risk losing it.