EU to challenge US over internet governance

At the November 2005 World Summit on the Information Society, the EU and the US are likely to clash over the question of who will hold what experts have called the “golden key” to the internet.

The lowest level of internet governance is that of the Domain Name System (DNS) and of root servers. 
 can be described as a distributed database that stores information about host names and domain names. It provides a physical location (the so-called IP address) for each host name, and lists the mail exchange servers accepting e-mail for each domain, thus assuring that e-mails reach their recipients and users of the internet find the pages they are looking for. Name servers are attributed to a particular top-level domain (TLD), such as .com, .org, .de or .uk. 

Root name servers
 are DNS servers that answer requests for the root name space domain, and redirect these requests for a particular top-level domain to that TLD’s name servers. Of 13 worldwide root name servers, only three (in London, Stockholm and Tokyo) are located outside the US.

Since 1998, all root servers have to follow the guidance of 
, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is a California non-profit corporation which took over the task of administering names and addresses in the internet. ICANN acts under a contract with the US Department of Commerce. The contract was “sole sourced”, which means no-one else was able to submit a bid to perform the task.  

Currently, ICANN has responsibility for Internet Protocol [IP] address space allocation, protocol identifier assignment, generic [gTLD] and country code [ccTLD] Top-Level Domain name system management, and root server system management functions. Technically, the US could abuse its oversight of ICANN to exclude any portion of internet users – even whole countries or continents – from access to the internet.

The United Nations Working Group on Internet Governance (
) has released a report calling for an end to the US's "pre-eminent role" in the management of the internet and said that there is a need for global institutions to be set up to tackle spam and network security issues: "No single government should have a pre-eminent role in relation to international internet governance." 

Addressing the Wireless Communications International annual conference on 30 June 2005, the US Assistant Secretary at the Department of Commerce Michael Gallagher said the US should “maintain its historic role in authorising changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file”. Therefore “the United States will continue to provide oversight so that ICANN maintains its focus and meets its core technical mission.”  This statement is in line with what other US government officials have said before

On 2 June 2005, the Commission adopted a communication saying that "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." 

In a speech to the European Institute in Washington DC, on 13 July 2005, Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said: "The EU has recently signalled its priorities for internet governance. These are: [...] the increased internationalisation of the management of core internet resources and the need to ensure that developing countries can better participate in this governance."  

The internet, widely regarded as a physical network spanning more or less the whole globe, may be more accurately described as  a collection of standards for sharing traffic between networks. The lowest layer of these standards consists of domain names, IP addresses, internet protocols, and root servers. While these standards are constantly evolving, they also require a minimum level of administration and of harmonisation in order to assure the smooth working of the network. This is what is meant by the term 'internet governance'. 

In the run-up to to the 16-18 November second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, to be held in Tunis, all parties are trying to win as many allies as possible. The EU is likely to be found in one camp with emerging economies like India and Brazil, whereas it seems unlikely that the US will find allies without opening itself up to compromises. Negotiations for a mutually viable solution are underway.

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