U.S. Wins Internet Governance Battle, For Now

Gretchen Gallen
TUNISIA – On the eve of the World Summit on Information Technology, ICANN and a gathering of U.S. and international delegates reached a decision in the ongoing debate over governance of the Internet – and ICANN came out the victor.

The decision, reached at the eleventh hour Tuesday night by representatives from more than 100 countries, gives ICANN continued control over the Internet, but as a compromise, a new Internet Governance Forum will be formed that will determine public policies for the Internet.

The IGF will launch in 2006, as a part of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN, and will comprise a body of international representatives as well as members of the private and civil sectors.

The IGF also will address issues such as spam and cyber crime, and the first meeting will be run by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

As for ICANN, it will be business as usual for at least another five years, and no new international spin-off of ICANN will be developed.

The decision is considered a huge victory for ICANN, which over the past year has been under fire from the EU, which had proposed plans to reform ICANN and hand over control to an international board, including the creation of a World ICANN called WICANN.

Many delegates have complained that California-based ICANN, under authority of the U.S. Commerce Department, unfairly dominates the website addressing system through its control of the Internet’s root servers.

Countries like China, Iran, Cuba, Brazil, Denmark and many others have argued that the U.S. has an unfair influence over the Internet and that control of the web should be shared more equally with the rest of the world.

ICANN chief Paul Twomey was seemingly pleased with the outcome of the meeting and said he would make sure that GAC reshapes its process to better accommodate involvement from outside governments. And while GAC has no direct control or influence over ICANN, Twomey said that the board of directors has never rejected recommendations from GAC.

David Gross, the U.S. State Department's top official on Internet policy, told ABC News that despite the U.S. government’s “hand” in ICANN, Internet governance was not the provenance of one specific country.

In preparation for the new plan, GAC will meet in Vancouver in two weeks.

ICANN was created by the U.S. Commerce Department in 1998 to administer the master list of web addresses, which are assigned by ICANN-accredited companies. ICANN manages top-level domains such as .com and .org, as well as country-specific domains, such as .ca.