Vint Cerf sets the record straight on who controls the net

Was the debate at Tunis as simple-minded as Vint Cerf categorizes it in this week's Newsweek interview?

Was the debate at Tunis as simple-minded as Vint Cerf categorizes it in this Newsweek interview? That developing countries are simply confused about the distinction between ICANN's administrative role in the domain sysem and "American control of the Internet"? Consider:

Critics say the U.S. government basically controls the Internet.
That's bulls—t. I'm sorry, I'm not supposed to say that to reporters, but that's just a very bad misunderstanding. Ninety-nine percent of the Internet is in private hands. If you've got a computer at home, and a cable box or DSL line, you own a piece of the Internet. Most of the Internet is owned by the private sector, by businesses, by ISPs, by individuals, by governments—well, that's not [the] private sector, but it's not ICANN either and it's not the United States.

So what about talk of a battle between the European Union and the United States over control of ICANN?
Governments frequently don't believe anything can work if nobody's in charge. As you look around the landscape, you discover that the only entity that has specific high-level responsibility, or unique responsibility for the Internet, is ICANN. And so the immediate and incorrect conclusion is that if ICANN has this unique responsibility, it must be in charge of the Internet. That's, frankly, not true.

Isn't Cerf conflating the workings of "the Internet" with the physical plant of the Internet? ICANN is certainly in control of the domain system and if ICANN decides that, I don't know, Iran should no longer participate in the network, cannot their actions simply make .ir disappear?

Beyond this simple question of control, ICANN has been run in quite a heavy-handed matter. It was two years ago that Karl Auerbach, after asking to see financial records for 18 months, won a court order compelling ICANN to provide those records.

Cerf might have taken the opportunity of Tunis to fashion the real future of the Internet. It's not really about bots and technology at all. It's really about how we will make it available to all the world's population, how it will drive open speech into countries otherwise unwilling to accomodate freedoms, how we will manage the barrage of international cybercrime, how it will transform as it becomes as international creation rather than a business utility.

No one would suggest turning management of DNS over to China but the reality is that control must either be eliminated entirely, or diversity accomodated. Cerf's heels-dug-in attitude doesn't help move the conversation in either direction.