U.S. Getting Out of the Internet Management Business — Sort of: Los Angeles Times, September 2009

It sounds almost silly to say it, but the Internet is going global.

Of course, it’s already global. But the underlying technology that makes the Internet run was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense 40 years ago, and the federal government continued to have a dominant voice in how the Internet was run.

Eleven years ago, as the Internet took off as a consumer medium and global force, the U.S. turned over some of its governance to a nonprofit group, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is based in Marina del Rey, where 70 of its 100 employees work, and it oversees what its vice president, Paul Levins, called the “unique and highly technical addressing system” that enables people to surf among 183 million domain names.

The U.S. has kept some authority over ICANN, including regular reviews, but the agreement between the government and ICANN was due to expire today.

The two entities have signed a new agreement that eliminates the U.S. reviews. ICANN now will be reviewed by a broader-based group of stakeholders from around the world.

“One thing this is not is Independence Day,” Levins said. “We were independent the day we were established. This is not somehow slipping nooses of accountability or cutting ourselves loose from the U.S.”

Instead, he said, the agreement marks a further weaning from U.S. control. The Internet is a public resource that is increasingly managed by its users. “We’ve become an organization accountable solely to the Internet community,” he said. “We will have review teams made up of people from all over the globe, not just a government sitting on Pennsylvania Avenue, although they will continue to play a crucial part.”

One sign of increasingly international influence to watch for: Domain names such as .com, .org and .gov currently are rendered only in the alphabetic characters we’re used to seeing on Western keyboards. ICANN is working on setting up domain names in non-Western characters, such as Chinese or Arabic. And when that happens, Levins said, watch for Internet growth to really take off.

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