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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Resolved: U.S. keeps control of Internet; A1

House approves bill co-sponsored by Rep. Goodlatte

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives agrees with one local congressman: Internet governance should remain a function of the United States.

And now the international community would seem to agree.

A concurrent resolution co-sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, was approved by the entire House late Wednesday, not long after a United Nations summit in Africa backed off demands that the United States surrender control of the system to an international body.

“This appears to be a big victory for the Internet, for free market principles and for the free flow of information,” Goodlatte said early Thursday.

At its core, the fight was over who would control the issuance of so-called “top-level domains,” like .com, .net and .org, and root servers, which serve as a “master phone book” for the net.

Root servers allow Web users to use addresses made up of letters and numbers, rather than forcing them to use more esoteric number-only Internet protocol addresses.

Four of the 13 root servers are in Northern Virginia. Two more are in Maryland.

At present, the system is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in California, better known by its acronym ICANN, which operates under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Officials at Commerce, and by extension the Bush administration, hold a veto over any decisions ICANN might make. That doesn’t sit well with many other nations, including some U.S. friends like Brazil and the European Union.

Both were part of a group calling for the United States to surrender control of ICANN or its function to an international body, like the International Telecommunications Union, which helps work out international standards for telephone and radio transmissions.

Bush administration officials said the idea was a non-starter.

Back in Washington, Goodlatte, along with Reps. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and John Doolittle, R-Calif., introduced a bill last month backing up the administration.

It passed the House late Wednesday 428-0. The Senate is considering a similar version.

Internet development has been largely a private-sector affair since U.S. government got the ball rolling, Goodlatte said. It should stay that way.

“The more governments that become involved in this process, the more red tape and overly burdensome regulations that huge bureaucratic agencies bring will increase,” Goodlatte said Wednesday.

On the international front, the matter came to a head in the run-up to this week’s World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia.

U.S. negotiators agreed to the creation of a new advisory panel, the Internet Governance Forum, that will meet with ICANN, various national governments and business entities and serve as a clearinghouse for concerns about how the network operates.

But it wouldn’t replace any existing structures.

“The IGF would have no oversight function and would not replace existing arrangements, mechanisms, institutions or organizations, but would involve them and take advantage of their expertise,” states the final agreement, which the United States has signed off on.

“It would be constituted as a neutral, non-duplicative and nonbinding process. It would have no involvement in day-to-day or technical operations of the Internet.”

Had the divide been pushed far enough, it could have led to a split in the management of root servers, eventually creating two geographically defined networks.

Instead of an address being specific to one Internet location the world over, addresses could have been duplicated as one set of international root servers used one set of top level domains and U.S.-based root servers used another.

The Tunisia summit is slated to wrap up today.