Who governs the internet

Updated: Nov 21 2005, 05:30am hrs
The battle for the control of the internet continued at the UN-sponsored World Summit on Information Technology, attended by over 12,000 delegates, among them heads of state, business leaders, technology experts and development gurus. A showdown between the US and several other countries which seemed imminent at the three-day summit meeting in Tunis, Tunisia, was averted following a pre-summit agreement. FE takes a Closer Look at the conflicting interests of various stakeholders and the issues therein:

What is the domain name system (DNS)

The DNS helps users find their way around the internet. Every computer on the internet has a unique addressjust like a telephone numberwhich is a rather complicated string of numbers. It is called its IP (internet protocol) address. Since IP addresses are hard to remember, DNS replaces them with a familiar string of letters (domain name), thus, making it easier to use the Net.

Who manages the DNS

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) is responsible for managing and coordinating DNS and ensuring that every address is unique and that all internet users can find all valid addresses. It does so by overseeing the distribution of unique IP addresses and domain names. It also ensures that each domain name maps to the correct IP address. Icann also administers 13 root servers. These are large computers which maintain the definitive index of domain names and their corresponding destinations, and filter the information down through the rest of the network.

What kind of domain names can be registered

Unsponsored top-level domains.biz, .com, .info, .name, .net, .org, and .pro are open and unrestricted. Traditionally, however, most names are intended or reserved for specific use. Like .biz is restricted for business while .org was initially intended to serve non-commercial activities.

Two letter domains, such as .in, .uk, .au and .jp are called country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) and correspond to a country or other geographic location.

Does Icann control the internet

Contrary to perceptions, its role is limited to managing the domain name system and it is not responsible for many issues associated with the Net such as financial transactions, internet content control, spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail), internet gambling, or data protection and privacy.

Does the US government control Icann

Since 1998, Icann a private-sector organisationhas managed this system under oversight by the US department of commerce. It was set up with the aim of shifting internet administration from the US government to the global internet community, and the organisation has tried to make its secretariat more international. It has operated at arms length from the US government, on a no-profit basis, and with at least four foreign directors on its board. In June this year, the US government said it had no intention of allowing Icann to become independent, arguing that bureaucracy could stifle innovation.

What do the other countries want

The international community has lobbied for a new multilateral approach that would limit the influence of any one country. They want the control to be devolved to an international body such as the UN. China, Brazil, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe and numerous other nations are reportedly worried that US control over the network could give the White House the power to shunt other countries offline by canceling their domain names. Washington argues the internets non-bureaucratic, open character fosters freedom and enterprise. According to the US Congress, this could be at risk if placed under a UN body which may be vulnerable to political interference.

What was the pre-summit agreement

That the US will retain control of the domain-name system that guides internet traffic. As part of the deal, a forum will be set up to discuss spam e-mail and other internet issues and explore ways to narrow the technology gap between the rich and poor countries. But this forum will not have the power to regulate the internet or wrest control of the domain-name system from the US, as sought by many countries.