Delegates from some 170 countries have gathered in Tunis to start a final attempt to break their three-year deadlock on the issue.
Preliminary negotiations are not expected to be completed by the time the summit organised by the UNs International Telecommunication Union (ITU) begins, spokesperson of the union Sarah Parkes and diplomats said.
The outcome could determine who eventually controls the technical and administrative infrastructure at the root of the internet, which allows the computer network to function seamlessly worldwide.
Some officials fear the dispute could degenerate and eventually lead to the Balkanisation of the internet, breaking it up into a series of unconnected rival networks.
At the moment the internet is administered mainly by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based independent body which is awarded the task by the US government on a renewable tender.
The exponential growth of internet connections worldwide and the webs growing economic and social importance have prompted opposition to the US monopoly. US officials have refused to allow oversight to be handed over to the UN.
Seven other proposals have been made in the talks running up to Tunis, with two other fundamental positions emerging. Iran, backed by other major developing nations, wants a body anchored to the UN to have oversight over ICANN and other agencies, with an advisory role for industry.