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Dominance of the internet is no longer the US’s domain

from – America’s decade-long control of the internet will end today when it bows to pressure and gives other countries a greater say in how the web is run.

The US Department of Commerce is expected to sign an agreement that will give the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), the body that co-ordinates the internet’s address system and ensures the smooth running of the web, much greater independence and loosen the American grip on it.

The move — which is expected to lead to the creation of a “G12 for internet governance” that will review and contribute to critical areas, such as web security — marks the “privatisation” of internet management and comes before the release of a flood of new web addresses early next year.

America’s grip on internet oversight dates back to Arpanet, the military network that was the forerunner to the modern internet. In 1998, while retaining control, the US Government delegated some of its authority to Icann, a not-for-profit California-based body.

Bodies including the European Commission have lobbied for a change in the system, which they say is unfair and outdated. Viviane Reding, the European Information Commissioner, has said that it was “not defendable that the government department of only one country has oversight of an internet function which is used by hundreds of millions of people in countries all over the world”.

The European Commission says that day-to-day management of the web should be left to Icann, but it has demanded the creation of a panel including representatives from North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, which would discuss and recommend policies.

Other countries, such as China and Russia, have pointed out that the next billion web-users are expected to be drawn mainly from the developing world.

The recent debacle over giving adult websites their own domain is among examples cited by critics of the unfair dominance of American authorities over the web.

While supporters of the idea argued that the cyber adultentertainment industry could be better regulated if the websites were kept within their own domain by moving from .com or to addresses ending in .xxx, the Icann board rejected it.

“It was the US Bible Belt deciding on issues of public morality on the net,” one critic said.

The loosening of US control is the latest in a series of steps to liberalise web management. Last year Icann announced new rules that would enable anyone to apply for any “top-level” name at the end of a web address and allow brands to be turned into web addresses. Names already requested include .Berlin .eco and .green.

The United States will not sever its links with Icann. Last week Rod Beckstrom,[pictured] head of Icann, told Congress that it would seek to maintain a “long-term formal relationship with the United States Government”.


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