EU to U.S.: Let Go of Web

BRUSSELS, Belgium – A European Union official has called on the United States to relinquish proprietary control of the Internet and join in creating a global agency to oversee the American organization that handles domains.

EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) should be fully privatized and when its current agreement expires Sept. 30,  should no longer supervised by the U.S. Department of Commerce, reports UPI.

"In the long run, it is not defendable that the government department of only one country has oversight of an Internet function which is used by hundreds of millions of people in countries all over the world," said Reding in a video message on her EU Commission site and in an issued statement.

The EU official from Luxembourg wants to push for less government involvement and control of the Web, instead suggesting it become more of a free market. In contrast to that idea, however, Reding also proposes a new agency to oversee ICANN, a G12 for Internet governance made up of representatives from nations around the globe. This would just transfer supervision from a U.S. agency to a global group, critics already note, and not truly create a free market at all. But most officials and governments do agree that some form of Web oversight is needed.

Reding called on U.S. President Barack Obama to not only privatize ICANN, but also back establishing such an international, independent judicial body, which would function as a "multilateral forum for governments to discuss general Internet governance policy and security issues."

"I trust that President Obama will have the courage, the wisdom and the respect for the global nature of the Internet to pave the way in September for a new, more accountable, more transparent, more democratic and more multilateral form of Internet governance," Reding said.

Reding questioned ICANN's current accountability, a monopoly over Internet control and domains, to which Europe and other reasons must adhere.

"A moment of truth will come on 30 September this year, when the current agreement between ICANN and the U.S. government expires," she said. "This opens the door for the full privatization of ICANN."

Public hearings are scheduled to start Wednesday in Brussels, conducted by the European Commission.

Established in 1998, the non-profit ICANN is based in Marina del Rey, Calif., and oversees top-level domain extension, such as ".com" and ".net," along with country-code extensions that include .ca for Canada, .uk for Britain and .fr for France

Historically, the U.S. lays claim to creation of the Internet, which was first developed by military agencies and defense laboratories in universities in the 1970s as a way of storing and sharing linked information. As a result, the U.S. has, for the most part, controlled the Web, though that domination has been opposed by other nations, including a move in 2005 by the United Nations, urging America to let go of that control.

The U.S. has said it does not maintain a tight grip on the Internet and in fact lets ICANN nearly have free reign in its activities, other than halting any plans for a .xxx domain for all adult content. That domain is still be pushed by proponents at ICM Registry, as recently reported by  

Some tech experts observe that Internet growth is greatest outside the U.S. now, so changes in controlling and supervising the Web is likely inevitable, even if America balks at the EU proposal.