US Tightens Hold On Worldwide Web

18 August 2006

The USA has tightened its grip on the administration of the worldwide web with the Commerce Department's renewal of its contract with ICANN - the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Although the present contract doesn't expire until September 3, the deal was inked this week as an interim measure while ICANN - a not for profit, California-based agency - and the US government negotiate a wide-ranging memorandum of understanding.

There is a delicate political balance to be struck, with much of the planet questioning whether the control of a global system (invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, a Briton in the employ of CERN, a European-funded scientific project) should be controlled by the globe's only superpower.

The relationship between ICANN and the US government is a continuing source of friction for other nations, some of which see the link as politicizing a neutral global computer network.

The US administration, for its part, has long insisted it intends to distance itself from ICANN by privatizing the agency. However, there is no sign that these words will be translated into action in the foreseeable future.

The latest signing, a one-year contract renewable for four additional years, signals a likely US political involvement until 2011 at earliest.

The agency's main function is the management of internet addresses, the allocation of domain suffixes such as .com, .eu and .org, the maintenance of an administrative database and responsibility for the smooth flow of web communications.

Wendy M Grossman, who has applied for a seat on Icann's board, believes ICANN is a lightning conductor for conflict.

Says Grossman, an American living in England who writes on internet matters: "To have that central point answerable only to the US government, if you live outside the United States . . . is quite bizarre."

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff