There is no central authority with responsibility for governing the Internet. No singular individual, company or country owns it. There are, however, several groups which wield substantial influence over the Net, either by controlling certain Internet functions or by acting as standard-setting organizations. Unfortunately, not all of these roles are clearly delineated. As a result, heated arguments over the proper role and function of Internet governance have arisen within the Internet community.
This section deals primarily with Internet governance as Internet maintenance and standard-setting. However, numerous additional debates may arise over the intersection of law and the Internet – e.g., should the Internet be regulated, and if so, by whom? Popular regulation questions include: who has or should have jurisdiction over Internet disputes; should content on the Internet be subject to regulation; should Internet functions themselves be regulated to ensure privacy or, alternatively, legal liability when infractions against third parties are committed over the Net? In the additional resources section, you may locate position papers on these and other questions regarding Internet regulation. For now, however, we will deal only with questions of Internet governance in terms of protocol standard setting and the maintenance of crucial Internet functions, such as the assignment of Internet domain names.
Many arguments over Internet governance arise over the proper scope of both governmental and international participation in standard-setting and infrastructure maintenance. The United States government has had substantial control over critical Internet functions since the Internet's inception. While the Internet originated in the United States, Internet services now extend across the globe, and documents contained in the web may originate from almost anywhere. The U.S. government, recognizing the global nature of Internet technology, has expressed an interest in removing itself as a player in Internet governance. But it has put the task upon the international Internet community to devise a better and more representative system.
The Internet community itself, however, remains divided. A number of Internet enthusiasts have expressed support for international non-profit organizations set-up to handle discrete Internet functions, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN), which is expected to become the new standard-setting organization for the assignment of Internet domain names. ICANN, which was officially incorporated in October, 1998, is currently in the process of assuming the responsibility for the technical management and consensus policy development functions that have been assigned to it. The current goal is that this transition from the U.S. Government will be completed by September of 2000.
Other constituents, though, believe that such functions should belong to exclusively private actors behaving in a freely competitive system. Moreover, even among the constituency supporting the non-profit solution to Internet governance, a number of factions remain critical of the structure and operation of the newly created ICANN corporation. This is not a surprising result based upon the "cacophony of voices" of the diverse interest groups that are participating.
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Created by Jocelyn
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Last updated 1-25-00
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