A world information society summit ended largely the way it began -- with the EU unable to loosen America's grip on the domain-name system that guides internet traffic.
ICANN will remain in control of the Internet
European Union officials were nevertheless pleased with the outcome of an 11th hour deal that staved off a possible fight with the United States over internet governance at this week's world summit on the information society.
The deal largely left intact the United States' single-handed control over the private body known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that oversees the key technical and administrative roots of the Internet. But it also called for the establishment of an international forum that will give the more than 100 governments that signed it a stronger voice in internet policy issues in the coming years.
The agreement would lead to "further internationalization of Internet governance, and enhanced intergovernmental cooperation to this end," wrote the European Union in a statement.
Lo n g-term solutio n
"In the short term, US oversight is not immediately challenged," an EU source told Reuters. "But in the long term they are under obligation to negotiate with all the states about the future and evolution of Internet governance."
The agreement, reached just before the beginning of the three-day World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, Tunisia, ended three years of debate on the sticky issue of Internet governance.
Checking a central server
Twelve of the 13 root servers that make the Internet run are located in the United States. Though ICANN is a private organization with international board members, the Commerce Department can still veto what goes on government -approved lists of the 260 or so internet suffixes, like ".com." Theoretically, the US could simply disconnect the domains of countries, like Iran or North Korea, with which they are feuding.
Feud three years i n the maki n g
The US said its historic role in the development and expansion of the World Wide Web gives it the right to maintain such control. Washington also cited growing security threats and the increasing use of the Internet in global communications and commerce as reasons for the country to retain control.
Rather than withdraw from ICANN in 2006, as it had originally planned, the Department of Commerce decided to stay on, frustrating EU officials and leading pundits to predict a clash during this week's summit. Pressure on the US to relent its involvement in ICANN has been brewing since the first summit in 2003 in Geneva.
Under US control until further notice
Diplomats and officials from both sides praised the agreement. But editorialists said the deal did nothing but delay confrontation on easing America's control over the internet.
"A world wide web should also be in the world's control -- not the only world power," wrote the Hamburger Abe n dblatt. "The decision of what really happens in the Internet continues to be made by ICANN. It won't be long before the problem is once again on the agenda of a world summit."