A trio of lawmakers in the House of Representatives has joined a Senate colleague in calling for the U.S. to retain oversight control over the Internet, as a showdown looms with countries wanting more say in how the Web is run.
Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) introduced a resolution with language similar to Sen. Norm Coleman's (R-Minn.) resolution introduced earlier in the U.S. Senate.
"The authoritative root zone server should remain physically located in the United States and the Secretary of Commerce should maintain oversight of ICANN so that ICANN can continue to manage the day-to-day operation of the Internet's domain name and addressing system," read the House resolution.
ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is a Calififornia-based non-profit tasked by the U.S. Department of Commerce to coordinate the Domain Name System (DNS), and manage the top-level domains like .com, .net, and .org. Commerce once did that job, but passed it on to ICANN in 1998.
The U.S. management is a legacy of the Internet's origins, which hark back to a Defense Department project, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Internet, launched in 1969.
Lately, however, several countries -- among them Brazil, China, Cuba, and Iran -- as well as organizations including the United Nations and the European Union have been pushing for a place at the Internet management table. In July, for instance, a U.N. report not only called for the U.S. to cede control, but said that the United Nations should set broader Internet policy, including multi-lingualization of the Web and the power to tax domains to pay for universal access.
"No single government should have a pre-eminent role in relation to international governance," read the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) report.
With the EU recently withdrawing its support for U.S. management of the Internet, the issue is expected to come to a head next month in Tunisia, when the World Summit on the Information Society convenes Nov. 16-18.
The Bush administration answered the calls for handing over the keys with a definitive "no" in June, and President Bush reiterated the arguments as recently as last week with European Commission President José Barroso in a face-to-face meeting in Washington, D.C.
"The United States will maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file," said Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael Gallagher in remarks to the Wireless Communications Association in June.
Some in Congress have been adamant about keeping the Net under U.S. control. "There is no rational justification for politicizing Internet governance within a U.N. framework," said Coleman in a statement. "Nor is there a rational basis for the anti-U.S. resentment driving the proposal. At the World Summit next month, the Internet is likely to face a grave threat. We risk the freedom and enterprise fostered by this informational marvel. This is not a risk I am prepared to take."
Coleman is, in fact, a frequent critic of the U.N., and has co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) that would require the U.S. to push for across-the-board reforms at the international organization.
"The Internet has flourished under U.S. supervision and oversight, and has evolved and grown under market-based principles and private sector leadership," added Coleman. "It is irresponsible to expand the U.N.'s portfolio before it undertakes sweeping, overdue reform. If the U.N. was unable to properly administer the Oil-for-Food Program, I am afraid what the Internet would look like under U.N. control.”
Those in the House have added their two cents as well. "The more governments that become involved in this process, the more red tape and overly burdensome regulations that huge bureaucratic agencies bring will increase," Virginia Republican Goodlatte said.
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