This article is part of our special report Innovation and the Digital Economy.
French lawmakers, supported by the EU's Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, are pressing the European Union to stand up more firmly against American domination in cyberspace.
33 French MPs launched an information mission on 3 December to explore the EU's role on the global governance of the Internet.
“The European Union is not present enough in the different international fora on Internet governance although the future of the Internet is a significant challenge,” said Catherine Morin-Desailly, vice-president of the EU Affairs Committee in the French Senate.
She urged French and EU authorities alike to “truly take over the international digital challenges”.
“Only the EU has the necessary power to influence this new cyberspace where the USA dominates,” she added.
The MPs’ concerns stem largely from the massive and illegal wiretapping done by the Americans which were revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
America's digital hegemony is obvious in the influence it exerts over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body which deals with the attribution of domain names worldwide.
>> Read our LinksDossier: The global battle to rule the Internet
The issue of attribution of domain names is becoming more sensitive in Europe and globally. Aside from the traditional extensions like .com or .fr, since 2011, ICANN has allowed more specific ones such as .paris or .vin.
While there was no problem about the .paris attributed to the City of Paris, the .vin or .wine extensions are much coveted by three different companies specialised in the auctioning of domain names.
The problem is that ICANN has no established rules to limit the speculation on domain names, or to protect the commercial use of winemaking geographical indications, which has angered winemakers.
“It’s not normal that ICANN is the only one to decide. Governments and the EU should have the same power, rather than just give simple recommendations, as is the case now”, claims Pascal Bobiller-Monent, the director of the French confederation of winemakers and alcohol producers with controlled designation of origin.
Commission letter to ICANN
The European Commission has already sent a letter to ICANN and the Commissioner in charge of digital issues, Neelie Kroes, requested ICANN to wait for a compromise which will protect geographical indications before attributing the names.
“Our position is firm: in no case can we accept .vin and .wine extensions on the Internet if the rights and interests of the geographical indications and those of the consumers are protected,” Kroes wrote.
But for now, both sides remain at loggerheads. Inside the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of the ICANN, countries are split in two groups. On one side, the US, New Zealand and Australia are opposed to framing the process. On the other 34 members including the EU, Latin America and French speaking African countries are in favour of it.
The European Commission firmly stands on its position over the domain names and on the issue of governance imposed by ICANN.
“For the Commission, the Internet governance issue is open,” Pascal Bobiller-Monnet assures.
“The current debate over .vin and .wine extensions also opens questions about the decision making process within the GAC,” the EU Commissioner wrote in another letter from 28 October.
Brussels is not alone in its battle against the American hegemony at ICANN. Countries like China and Russia are thinking about establishing their own regulation body.
Like telephones, the Internet relies on numbers which identify computers and allow them to connect to one another. This identification process is coordinated at global level by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
ICANN was established as a not-for-profit corporation in 1998 with the backing of Washington. The agreement with the US administration has been renewed every three years up to the last renewal, signed in 2006.
ICANN is responsible for defining Internet domains, such as .com or .eu and for managing the Internet core directory.
The EU and other countries around the world have acknowledged the success story of the US-born Internet, but have increasingly challenged the United States' sole control of Internet governance.
>>Read our LinksDossier: The global battle to rule the Internet