Searching for the Best Way to Govern the Internet

Opinion: How the Internet is managed could affect issues ranging from free speech to the worldwide conduct of business on the Web.

Whats the best way to run the worlds information highway? This is a question to which all nations must give careful consideration.

Indeed, during the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society last week in Tunis, Tunisia, much of the discussion was focused on the question of how to govern the Internet.

/zimages/3/28571.gifTo read columnist Chris Nolans views on who should control ICANN, click here.

Currently, the Internet is managed by the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. While ICANN has an international advisory body, the U.S. government retains veto power over all decisions. Although todays Internet is descended from the U.S.-built ARPAnet, it has become, in effect, a global property, an international information highway.

However the Internet is governed, we appreciate its present level of freedom and firmly believe that level should not be reduced. Neither specific proposals nor binding mechanisms for international Internet governance are yet in the offing, but the prospect of governments taking a hand—especially governments lacking long traditions or formal commitments to freedom of speech—is ominous.

/zimages/3/28571.gifExperts debate whether the United States should share stewardship of the Internet. Click here to read more.

Much is at stake. How the Internet is managed could affect issues ranging from free speech to the worldwide conduct of business on the Web.

For example, the United Nations International Telecommunication Union has been suggested as a replacement for ICANN. But the ITUs ties to national telephone monopolies dont offer much promise that the organization would take a minimalist position on regulation.

We dont think the United States has all the answers on how the Internet should be run. The U.S. governments position against the implementation of an .xxx domain for pornography was an example of unwelcome government influence.

But the United States isnt always wrong, either. Minimal regulation, as fostered by the United States, has given us the Internet we have today. And even the U.S. position on the Internets future governance foresees a forum for greater international influence.

In our view, global input is welcome and necessary, but not if it results in needless restrictions on Web content or technologies. Institutions such as the ITU are experienced in writing regulations, not in devising models of self-governance based on shared interests and technologies that pave desirable paths of least resistance. Wed like to see some evidence that the ITU defines the problem correctly before we encourage it to attempt a solution.

The more restrictions we place on the Internet, the more its value as a global and interoperable resource diminishes. Minimal regulation should be the goal of any change in the way the Internet is governed. It is through limited regulation that the Internet has become a global resource of tremendous value—and it will be through limited regulation that it will remain so in the future.

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