June 30, 2005
ICANN: Keeping it in the Family
Posted by Caroline Bradley

Over at Discourse.net there's a post about the US Department of Commerce announcing that it had decided to keep control of the Domain Name System rather than turning it over to ICANN as it had previously suggested. The US Government now says:

Given the Internet's importance to the world's economy, it is essential that the underlying DNS of the Internet remain stable and secure.  As such, the United States is committed to taking no action that would have the potential to adversely impact the effective and efficient operation of the DNS and will therefore maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file.

This development is interesting in all sorts of ways. But in particular the timing is odd - the announcement is made just before a meeting of the UN's World Summit on the Information Society. One of the so far unresolved issues in the WSIS is the issue of internet governance. So it doesn't look like a friendly gesture to the UN.

It's not particularly friendly either to Europeans who much preferred the idea that the Internet would be controlled by a private corporation than that it would be controlled by the US Government. And the timing is weird here too - the US and EU just announced a Roadmap for EU-US Regulatory Co-operation  which is being portrayed in Europe as a major step forward in the relationship between the US and the EU.

Here is what the EU Commission said at the beginning of this month about its objectives for the forthcoming Tunis meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society in relation to internet governance:

Among the priorities identified by the group of Directors-General, the question of internationalising the management of the Internet’s core resources, namely, the domain name system, IP addresses and the root server system, appears to be one of the main issues currently being discussed.

The EU believes that a new cooperation model is needed in order to give substance to the provisions in the WSIS Declaration of Principles regarding the crucial role of all stakeholders within Internet governance, including governments, the private sector, civil society and international organisations. Existing Internet governance mechanisms should be founded on a more solid democratic, transparent and multilateral basis, with a stronger emphasis on the public policy interest of all governments.

This new model should be based on the following principles:

(1) It should not replace existing mechanisms or institutions, but should build on the existing structures of Internet governance, with special emphasis on the complementarity between all the stakeholders involved in this process: governments, the private sector, civil society and international organisations;

(1) The new public-private cooperation model should contribute to the sustainable stability and robustness of the Internet by addressing appropriately public policy issues related to key aspects of Internet governance.

Note that this document definitely does not say the EU wants the US Government to control the DNS. The Roadmap for Regulatory Co-operation announcements don't seem to say anything about internet governance as such, but it certainly looks to me as though today's announcement isn't really in this spirit of regulatory co-operation.

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