U.S. Reasserts Control Over the Internet

Rhett Pardon
LOS ANGELES — With possible consequences including derailment of the proposed .XXX sponsored top-level domain and making ICANN irrelevant, a senior Bush administration official said the federal government will indefinitely retain oversight of the root servers that control traffic on the Internet.

Michael D. Gallagher, assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce Department, said late Thursday that growing security threats and increased reliance on the Internet globally for communications and commerce were reasons for federal control. He outlined the statement in a four-paragraph statement posted online.

ICANN officials declined to comment to XBiz late Thursday night. But the Associated Press reported that they were still reviewing the government’s statement, which also expressed continued support of ICANN for procedural operations.

The root servers in question serve as the Internet's master directories and tell browsers and email programs the traffic direction. Those servers, however, are privately owned.

Policy decisions could make all websites ending in a specific suffix essentially unreachable. The servers contain government-approved lists of the almost 300 Internet top-level domains, such as .com.

The Commerce Department in 1998 selected ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, to decide what goes on those lists.

The Commerce Department kept veto power, but indicated it would let go once ICANN met a number of conditions.

Just last week, a top-level Commerce official told XBiz that his agency had little on the table for pulling the .XXX initiative.

The official said that Commerce neither passes judgment on the merits of any TLD nor has the authority to stop ICANN from approving a TLD. Rather, the department is responsible only for technical aspects of implementation, including adding .XXX to root servers.

Gallagher’s statement Thursday night changes Commerce’s policy.