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Ruling the Net

The U.S. hold on internet policy just got a little looser.

This is turning into a game of "Whose Net Is It Anyway?" The battle for governance of the internet has been heated. Despite a lot of movement last year, not too much has actually been resolved. Here's the current situation: Some nations, including China and Cuba, believe the U.S. government has too much control over the management of the internet. The nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers plays a big role in this. It sets top-level domains and prices and handles dispute resolutions on behalf of the U.S. government. As expected, the U.S. isn't too keen on letting control be transferred to some international body.

A UN technology summit held in Tunisia late last year, dubbed the World Summit on the Information Society, turned into something of a showdown over the internet control issue. Some UN members proposed moving control to a yet-to-be-founded UN agency. Before any truly major fireworks could explode, a temporary deal was worked out: The issue is being handed over to the UN's new Internet Governance Forum, which will have its first meeting sometime in 2006. It opens up a new venue for discussion of internet control issues, but any proposals it might make will be nonbinding.

What does all this mean for the internet? For now, the status quo remains unshaken. Entrepreneurs needn't brace for any radical shifts in the way the internet is governed just yet. Still, this is a hot-button issue that looks like it will linger for a while. For details on the summit, visit the International Telecommunication Union's site at www.itu.int/wsis.

This story appears in the April 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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