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Does the USA ‘control’ the Internet?

November 26, 2007

by Mark Ollig

Does the United States have an unfair advantage, or even a “control” over the Internet?

The national Brazilian Internet Governance Forum, recently held in Rio de Janeiro, criticized the US, suggesting there is a direct influence on how the US “influences” and controls the part of the Internet whereby IP addresses and domains are assigned.

The forum talked about the role Americans play over domain name policies, including whether and how to assign Internet suffixes in languages besides English.

Domain names and Internet IP address are assigned and maintained by the group which is called the “Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers” or ICANN.

Members from around the world make up ICANN.

Their web site is http://www.icann.org/.

The use of domain names and suffixes is critical in accessing web sites, and ICANN is the one body that does this.

Brazil, for example, has an assigned suffix of “BR.” The United Kingdom has “UK.”

This means that if I want to go the BBC web site for news that is happening “over-the-pond,” I would type into my web browser “bbc.co.uk,” with the “co” meaning “country” and “uk” meaning “United Kingdom.”

The countries of the world have become inter-connected on the Internet; there is no question about that.

The Internet is the one medium where we can (still) freely discuss openly our thoughts and opinions on a variety of topics, without fear of censorship. Unless you are in China, where the government actually controls what the people can access online.

Before cable television or the Internet of today, we learned what was happening in the country and around the world via newspapers and television news mediums like CBS, NBC and ABC. They provided the major source of news and information to the public.

Today, we as individuals have the ability to not only witness a news event happening, but can use a cell phone to record and upload it to any Internet news web site, blog, and what has become one of the largest deposits of everything media, Youtube.

This technology is available to all of us. We have the ability to use the Internet as the medium to share – almost instantaneously – information with thousands or even millions of people. Could this “power” or “control” we have be seen as a “threat” to any one government, or to even our own mainstream news media?

I will leave this topic of debate open for another day (or column).

I prefer at this time to look some years back at the wonderment and the promise of what the Internet was to bring us.

Any readers remember the local computer bulletin boards, or BBS?

I believe I had the first (advertised) BBS in Winsted, called WBBS Online (Winsted Bulletin Board System) which was free for anyone to log into.

For those of you out there that ever dialed into a BBS with your modem at 1200 baud, you will understand the feeling of the time. A BBS provided people with an online community, which assured everyone of having an equal voice to freely express their thoughts and opinions. It provided a place to participate, contribute, and learn.

My thoughts go back to that time . . . this idea of an online virtual-community that was not limited by distance. It was a “place” without any personal bias . . . where all visitors were welcomed to stop by. It was similar to conversing in a “virtual coffee shop.”

My BBS was one of hundreds, if not thousands, of small not-for-profit grass roots local “hobby boards” that sprang up around the country.

Today, I like to write about the many credible and well-researched web sites and sources on the Internet that actually contributes to our continued learning and knowledge of our world around us.

There can be no more doubts about what a powerful force the Internet has become.

As individuals, we have the ability to start a web site or a blog to express and make known to a large group of people our thoughts about government or any other topic we choose.

Does it make you wonder why anyone would want to control that?

Just by going to our computer, we have the ability to learn about other countries and societies’ news, art, history, politics, and cultures.

For example, I was on a Barcelona web site in Spain looking at the wealth of information about their city available. A link to the Barcelona television “TV-3” web site had videos of some of their daytime programs that air there.

It seems the last half of this column may have strayed – just a little bit – from the topic of the Internet Governance Forum held in Brazil.

So, does the USA “control” the Internet?

On the other hand, could the question asked by the forum in Brazil not be a question at all, but rather a concern implied – a concern that any one government or authority not control the Internet?