Thursday, November 17, 2005

US to keep control of domain names

Under an agreement struck at the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society, the United States will retain control of the domain-name system controlling the Internet.

The European Union and some countries had hoped to put the system under international control, which they believed would lead to enhanced cooperation among governments.

Some countries, such as Iran and Brazil, argued that the United Nations or another global organization should take over management of the domain-name system.

But the U.S. countered that such a situation would stifle innovation by tangling the system in red tape.

Over Seeing

The recent decision is one in a long line of debates over Internet governance. Part of the difficulty has been that in the Internet's early days, administration of domain names was done on an ad hoc basis.

In the 1990s, the U.S. Department of Commerce mandated that a nonprofit group, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), should take over the task.

Since then, ICANN has been under fire for its reluctance to transfer the system to the global community.

With the decision at the conference to continue ICANN's administration, it is likely that the debate over governance will continue throughout the conference and well into the future.

To Be Decided

The agreement at the conference to keep domain-name control in the U.S. is a major decision, but some analysts and observers are eager for more detail about where to go from here.

"There are a number of things happening at once, a range of issues concerning free speech and new architectures, and basically it all got deferred [at the conference]," said Michael Froomkin, a founding editor of ICANNWatch.org, and professor at the University of Miami School of Law, specializing in Internet law.

"The issue for me is whether someone will come along and try to impose new architectures that create chokepoints," he said. "There's nothing in the reports about the details of this. Everything has been left for another day."

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