The European Commission has called on the United States to let the internet's main governing body become accountable to the whole of the world.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which is based in California, is responsible for running core Internet functions such as the assignment of address space, and the management of top-level domains and the root zone file. Icann performs these tasks on behalf of the U.S. government, under an agreement that will expire on September 30.
"The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is approaching a historic point in its development," said information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding in a statement last week. "Will it become a fully independent organization, accountable to the global Internet community? Europeans would expect so, and this is what we will push for. I call on the U.S. to work together with the European Union to achieve this."
According to the Commission, the EU has nearly 19 percent of the world's Internet users, despite having just over 7 percent of the world's population.
"Internet usage and penetration is now so high, especially in developed countries such as those of the EU, that it has become a critical resource, where any serious disruption in service can have potentially catastrophic effects on society and the economy," the Commission said.
The Commission praised the private-sector nature of Icann and other, more regional Internet administration companies such as Europe's RIPE NCC, but said the banking crisis had led to a public expectation "that governments will be more proactive than they may have been in the past in defending the public interest".
Icann should be accountable to the governments of the world, but is currently accountable only to the U.S. government, the Commission said. "The stability and management of the root-zone file is, however, a matter of crucial importance not just to the U.S. government but to all countries of the world," the Commission said. The root-zone file is a database file that contains much of the information necessary for running the Internet's domain name system.
The Commission also noted that international accountability was essential for bridging the global digital divide.
"The first billion Internet users have been largely from the developed world, and the initial governance decisions and structures were, not surprisingly, mostly made by participants from developed countries," the Commission said. "The next billion users will mostly come from the developing world, however, and their interests must be taken into account in any governance arrangements made for the future."