The End User: U.S. weaves tangled Web
By Victoria Shannon International Herald Tribune
SATURDAY, JULY 2, 2005
PARIS Have you considered the possibility of "the Internets"? Not to be alarmist, but that is one outcome that critics are forecasting after the Bush administration changed its stance on one issue of Internet governance this week.
In a new enunciation of its policy, the U.S. Department of Commerce indicated that it wanted to retain control over changes to a simple text document called the root zone file. This file is the essence of the Internet addressing system, holding the master pointers for translating numbers into actual Web locations.
When the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as Icann, is completely separated from the Commerce Department in September 2006, it is supposed to take the responsibility for administering this addressing system with it.
But the statement Thursday from President George W. Bush's administration says that the United States will "maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file." In so doing, the government "intends to preserve the security and stability" of the technical underpinnings of the Internet.
Today, no single entity has control over the 13 name servers that resolve the addresses in the master root zone file. But only three of these servers are maintained outside the United States.
While the smooth working of the Internet may be in everyone's interest, the administration's language has put a scare in some parts of the international community.
Various groups, including the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency based in Geneva, have suggested that the U.S. government has too much control over the Internet, which has become a vital link in commerce and communications around the world since it grew out of U.S. Defense Department research in the 1960s and 1970s.
And that's where the idea of multiple Internets comes in. If the United States uses its power over the root zone file arbitrarily, or denies requests for changes made by other countries, they theoretically could just start up their own domain name system, or DNS.
A single addressing system, developed over time and with consensus, is what makes the Internet so efficient, global and powerful. With multiple Internets, addresses would no longer be predictably reachable.
Patrik Faltstrom, a Swedish liaison for the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Architecture Board, said the U.S. announcement was "certainly negative for a lot of countries."
"It's not going to work in the long run to have the USA deciding everything by themselves," Faltstrom told The Associated Press. "It's clearly not good if one country can say no" to DNS changes made in Sweden, for example, he added. "No country should be able to say no to that."
While the United States has yet to deny such requests, "the mere possibility of being able to do so is pretty serious," Faltstrom said.
The Bush administration's statement comes two weeks before an international working group is to issue its final report on Internet governance, although U.S. government officials said the timing was not related.
The report, which is to be delivered on July 16, is part of a two-year-long global debate organized by the United Nations on policy issues of the digital age, like who should control the Internet. The conference, called the World Summit on the Information Society, concludes in Tunisia in November.
Before that meeting, countries like Brazil, India, Syria and China have proposed that a new global Internet governance body take over from Icann.
Last month, the European Union called for "a new cooperation model" and "international consensus" on Internet governance, without specifying the role of governments, the private sector or Icann.
The U.S. government, on the other hand, "will continue to support market-based approaches and private-sector leadership in Internet development broadly," according to the principles published Thursday.
Because of the breadth of topics that could be considered part of Internet governance - like spam e-mail, privacy issues and fraud - "there is no one venue to appropriately address the subject in its entirety," the statement said.
"The single driving force behind these principles is the security and the stability of the Internet," said David Gross, the U.S. State Department official in charge of international communications policy.
"Part of that is saying to the world that we will continue to do certain things that we have already been doing."