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US to retain control of Web


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Lawmakers urge U.S. to keep control of Web


Thursday, October 20, 2005; Posted: 10:58 a.m. EDT (14:58 GMT)




WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. lawmakers are urging the Bush administration to resist a push from other countries to shift control of the Internet to the United Nations, arguing that such a move would stifle innovation and free expression.


"Is it going to become a vehicle for global taxation of domain names? Are you going to allow folks who have demonstrated a pattern of suppression of content, are they going to be put in charge of running this thing?" said Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, sponsor of a Senate resolution that calls for the Internet's core addressing system to remain under U.S. control.


Coleman's resolution, along with similar remarks by senior lawmakers in the House of Representatives, should give a boost to U.S. negotiators as they prepare for a United Nations summit in Tunisia next month where the issue will loom large.


Though no one country controls the Internet as a whole, the U.S. Commerce Department maintains final authority over the domain-name system that matches easy-to-remember names like "example.com" with the Internet Protocol numbers that are assigned to each computer on the Internet.


That system is overseen by a California-based nonprofit group called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.


If other countries refuse to recognize ICANN's legitimacy, Internet users in different parts of the globe could wind up at different Web sites when they type "www.example.com" into their browsers.


Countries like Brazil and Iran have argued in a series of meetings over the past two years that the Internet is now a global resource that should be overseen by the United Nations or some other international body.


The European Union withdrew its support of the current system last month.


The United States has made clear that it intends to maintain control.


In an interview, Coleman said a bureaucratic body like the United Nations' International Telecommunications Union would slow innovation and extend its reach beyond the domain-name system. Countries that censor online content could use the forum to ban free expression elsewhere, he said.


"I don't think this is mundane. I really think you're talking about the future of the Internet here," said Coleman, a prominent UN critic who has overseen a Senate investigation into the UN's oil-for-food scandal.


Since it was founded in 1998, ICANN has introduced competition into the market for domain names and expanded the number of names available by introducing new suffixes like .info and .biz. as alternatives to standbys like .com and .org.


But the nonprofit body has also been plagued by infighting, charges that it does not operate in a transparent manner, and the perception that it is cowed by the U.S. government.


ICANN agreed to suspend work on a proposed .xxx domain name for sex sites after the Bush administration objected in August.


Despite the nonprofit group's flaws, "I don't think anyone would argue that there is any demonstrated effort to limit access, to control content, to limit growth. If anything ICANN has overseen a tremendous positive expansion," Coleman said.



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