The US "control of the Internet"

So, the United States is mad that the EU and others want to reduce the US control over the domain name system, as exercised through a contract between the US Department of Commerce and ICANN.  I agree wholeheartedly that the system of management of the DNS, which has worked well at a technical level, is a procedural mess and should be transitioned, as planned, to a system less dominated by the United States.  (Along with many others, I’ve written a couple of turgid pieces to this effect, such as this one.)

But the notion that the United States has “effective control of the Internet,” as reported here and elsewhere misses is badly misleading.  (The NYT/IHT quote lead reads in full: “The United States and Europe clashed here Thursday in one of their sharpest public disagreements in months, after European Union negotiators proposed stripping the Americans of their effective control of the Internet.”)  The US does not have “effective control of the Internet” via its partial authority over the DNS (which, I repeat, ought to be fixed).  The Internet is controlled by the interplay of an incredibly complex series of laws, code, markets, and norms, as Lawrence Lessig famously wrote in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace — that was right in 1999, and it’s right in 2005.  The US no more has control over the Internet than China does, or as we as users do, or as Microsoft or Google do.  The misplaced emphasis on ICANN-as-lightening-rod ensures that the more important issues of Internet governance are glossed over or never engaged in full.

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