Is ICANN’s control of Internet governance at an end? Representatives from the European Union and other countries are lobbying for this to be true. At the recent World Summit of the Information Society, organised by the United Nations in Geneva, several countries argued that the allocation of domain names and similar tasks be run by an international body, rather than by ICANN in conjuction with the US government. Such a change would be a radical shift from the current policy, and it is not altogether clear which option would have the best results.

During subc0mmitte preparation for the upcoming WSIS conference in Tunisia to be held in December, a European Union delegation stated its opposition to the current system, in which the US Commerce Department approves changes to the Internet’s “root zone files,” which are administered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit organization based in California.

As reported on the World Summit website:

As proposed, the new [public-private governance] model would foster development of public policy principles, and include provision for equitable global IP number block allocation, procedures for changing the root zone file system to provide for insertion of new top-level domains and for changes of ccTLD managers. It also includes open support for a new public policy forum that would work with existing institutions and organizations to address multi-dimensional and interrelated public policy issues without trying to “dominate issues already dealt with elsewhere” or performing oversight functions.

In an attempt to quell the buzz generated by the intervention, the US delegation moved quickly to clarify its own position: any model must ensure stability and security, be founded on a competitive market-based approach, recognize private sector leadership, and support local innovation at the edges of the network. “Under no circumstances”, the US delegate said, would his country “take any action that would adversely impact the security and stability of the Domain Name System, and will maintain its historic role in authorizing changes to the root zone file.”

The arguments on both sides are strong: while leaving Internet governance in the hands of a single country (and, indirectly, those of a single government) exposes the system to potential abuse, does that justify changing to an untested system in which governments will have an even stronger role (and thus open the system to potential bureaucratic weaknesses)?