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Fighting for custody of the Net

Custody battles are always nasty. And from the looks of things, a recent proposal to shift control of the Internet to the U.N. will be no better. Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota has brought a resolution before the U.S. Senate that would back the Bush administration's stance against the international body taking over control of the Web's infrastructure--a move that is set to be discussed in Tunisia next month.

United Nations

A shift in that control would hand over decision power on top-level domains, spam abatement, consumer protection and root server maintenance. Specific ideas being kicked around include rolling ICANN into the International Telecommunication Union and levying taxes on e-mail and domain names.

The question of who should manage these issues is just one manifestation of international conflicts boiling up related to Internet policy. When Google changed its Gmail e-mail addresses in the U.K. to Google Mail as a result of a trademark dispute, many was shortsighted and U.S.-centric. Other run-ins--such as Yahoo's cooperation leading to a Chinese man's 10-year prison sentence and a U.S.-based group that fought to free 20 bloggers imprisoned in Iran--highlight the conflicts that can arise when divergent cultures collide online.

The move to keep control of the Web stateside has, unsurprisingly, garnered bipartisan support among many Americans, who contend that much of the infrastructure in place today was developed and maintained by American entities. Some other nations, though, don't trust the U.S. to look out for their needs and priorities. Is the U.S. government the best fit to manage the Internet's infrastructure and regulations in the future? Or is the U.S. being unreasonable in its refusal to relinquish control to someone else?

Blog community response:

"Today, the Internet is truly a global organism. However, the other countries of the world did NOTHING to foster its original development. They only joined in the fun AFTER the hard work was done. Not only that, no other country can be trusted with the vast technical expertise required to run the core Internet systems! Can you imagine a DNS root server in Iraq??? Cuba??? India??? No way."
--Thomas Miller

"The real reason the UN wants the root servers is to tax the internet. They have broadly hinted that it is a ripe untapped resource for them to siphon off. The biggest problem the trans-natsies have is a lack of recurring revenue. The internet tax would solve that."
--Right Wing News

"To many of us living outside the US, US unilateral control of the root zone is unacceptable-period. (apologies to Ambassador Gross). All the arguments advanced that change might somehow create a problem with Internet security and stability are not based on any rational assessment of what would happen if change in root zone authorization were to occur—rather on fear. The continued control by USA might have a rationale in commerce, but not in Internet stability."

"A lot of American bloggers have been, predictably, furious. It's worth giving some thought to the substance of the criticism. The key thing is that, apparently, "if the UN get - shudder - control of the Internet the Chinese could censor everything!" Or, for Chinese, insert any foreign government. The first, and uncomfortable, point is that it seems a lot less obvious to me that the US government is so trustworthy than it does to some."
--The Yorkshire Ranter