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Who owns the Internet?

By Andree Toonk | February 7, 2009

I just read this article [Internet Ownership Is Still Debated], which made me think about Internet ownership. Many people regard the Internet as not having one sole owner. In fact, it’s a collection of autonomous networks that together make up the Internet. Right?

I guess that’s the ideological point of view.  Of course there are organizations regulating and assigning resources on the Internet, and they have some control over the Internet.  Examples are the Regional Internet Registries (RIR) such as RIPE and ARIN, the Country Code Top Level Domain (cc-tld) registries, and IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) which is controlled by a U.S. entity known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is controlled by the U.S. government.
So is it fair to say the Internet is owned by ICANN and the United States? I guess yes and no….

The actual independent networks are autonomous and not owned by a single organization. However, services like the root DNS servers and resource assignments are owned by ICANN. All DNS servers ultimately report to 13 root servers. These 13 servers are run by a variety of organizations ranging from the U.S. military, to private corporations, to a nonprofit group based in Amsterdam. Many of the servers are located outside the U.S., but all of them are overseen by ICANN. And, ICANN is overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The deployment of DNSSEC is another example of how the U.S. government has the final say in the evolution of the Internet. The decision to digitally sign the root name-servers is subject to the final say of the U.S. government, specifically by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce (NTIA).  Signing the root name server as part of a full DNSSEC implementation is not trivial.

So this raises the question. Should one country have the final say in these decisions? Who should own the Internet governance? Is the current system transparent enough?
Not so long ago CIRA Suspended Participation in ICANN because of concerns regarding transparency and accountability. This morning I read another article which questioned ICANN’s investment policy, stating that due to irresponsible investing it lost 4.6 million dollars.

I don’t claim to have the answers, but I do think it’s ongoing food for thought.

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