Will America’s Internet Hegemony End Sept. 30?

MARINA DEL REY, Calif.—The often contentious relationship between the United States government and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will hopefully undergo a significant, if limited, transformation Wednesday when the longtime agreement between the two expires and a new one is expected to be formalized.

The new agreement—called the “affirmation of commitments”—is only four pages long but provides ICANN the autonomy to manage its own affairs; unlike previous agreements, it has no fixed term.

According to the Economist, the agreement sets up oversight panels that include representatives of foreign governments to conduct regular reviews of ICANN’s work in four areas:

  • Competition among generic domains (such as .com and .net);
  • The handling of data on registrants;
  • The security of the network and transparency, and
  • Accountability and the public interest—the only panel on which America will retain a permanent seat.

According to Michael Palage, a former ICANN board member and current senior fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank, the new agreement "will tell them what [they] should do but can't legally bind them," as past agreements did. "It gives the appearance [to] the global community that the U.S. government has recognized that ICANN has done what it was supposed to do. What it's also doing is [adding] in some accountability mechanisms."

While the close relationship between the U.S. and ICANN may never be completely severed, proponents of the new agreement hope this new agreement will mitigate many of the criticisms from countries upset about the Commerce Department’s unique level of control over internet affairs.

“The recent debacle over giving adult websites their own domain is among examples cited by critics of the unfair dominance of American authorities over the web,” noted the Times Online. “While supporters of the idea argued that the cyber adult entertainment industry could be better regulated if the websites were kept within their own domain by moving from .com or .co.uk to addresses ending in .xxx, the ICANN board rejected it.”

“It was the U.S. Bible Belt deciding on issues of public morality on the net,” one critic said.

While a majority of people who work in adult entertainment as well as the members of the ICANN board who voted down the .XXX application would certainly disagree with that analysis of the outcome, it remains a widely help belief among many in the international community, and is often used as proof of America’s abuse of its historic control over ICANN.

For many countries, the new agreement is but one step toward the ultimate goal of complete independence.

“The new set-up at ICANN will not placate countries such as China, Russia and Iran that want America to relinquish control entirely,” says the Economist. “However ICANN runs itself, it cannot alter the basic piping of the internet without America’s approval under another agreement that lasts until 2011. Even then, that is unlikely to change.”