I think there are much larger issues than things like where the root servers are located and who will control the creation of domain names, although the locations of root servers (most are now in the US) is an issue. Theoretically, the US can block all mail addresses that have the .ir top-level domain name, since it thinks that Iran is a rogue state.
This theoretical possibility leads us to the important issue of US dominance. Should we allow the US and some private corporations to dominate and decide the future of internet Or should all national governments jointly address the problems the Net is facing today
Take spam which, in the next 10 years,will become one of the single-biggest problems on the Net. Its growth will be far more than the number of mails we get.
The other important thing is the use of the open standards in building internet technology, as opposed to proprietary standards. Internet is not the place for proprietary standards, but governments have to cooperate on the issue of open standards so that internet can never be a place for private parties to make money.
We will need international cooperation for the Net to flourish. I doubt if this cooperation will be forthcoming if the US says, I am the boss and I decide what is good for the Net.
There may not be any immediate impact if the US reacts this way, but it would not help in the long run for unleashing the promise the Net holds for the global economy. For, the Net is becoming central to the global economic future. From commercial transactions to financial economic issues, the Net is playing an important role.
And in the business and economic realm where security and development of technology standards are issues that need international cooperation. But cooperation cant happen if the US continues with its I am the boss kind of attitude.
The internet era is still in its infancy and we have to focus on its prospects and problems. This can be done effectively only if all countries participate equally in its running. The US has very clearly said that it would like to put it in private hands. It is a part of the Republican ideology. Bill Clinton would not have said that the Nets functioning should be entirely privatised.
Since internet as a medium for communication has enormous commercial implications, currently there is a lot of debate on who should administer the dot com or dot net domain and if there should be a regulator for taking the ultimate decisions.
The question is, who will be the regulator We already have the International Telecom Union (ITU) under the UN to deal with telecom issues. ITU can have an arrangement with Icann to look after all internet issues where governments or different parties are in conflict.
There is a need for an international regulator, in consent with all the governments, to decide how the internet should be run. Unless we have such a system, there may be a situation where the Nets future will depend on who is in power in the US.
Some questions are also being raised on whether some countries should have the right to censor the Net, or if a country has the sovereign right to block the blogs of its dissidents, for instance China.
This should not be an issue at the level of whether the US should be controlling the Net. Whether the Chinese are regulating the issue the right way or not is a different issue from whether Net control should be in the hands of one country.
I dont think China will have the power to control the Net. But it is one reason why we need a regulatory power to ensure that no single countrycontrols the Net.
(As told to Indranil Chakraborty)
The writer is vice-president, Delhi Science Forum