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27th May 2017

EU bids to end US dominance in internet control

  • The EU commission wants there to be international control over the structures that govern the web (Photo: Bombardier)

The European Commission wants to end US control over the governance of the internet, according to a report published Wednesday (12 February).

The EU paper on "Europe's role in shaping the future of Internet governance" calls for an international group to replace the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages the assignation of domains such as .com, .co.uk and .org to new websites.

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At present, the United States is the centre of power behind the structure of the internet. ICANN currently has an exclusive contract with the US government, with whom a number of jurisdictions complain it has a too-cosy relationship.

EU digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes called for "a timeline to globalise ICANN" and warned that the web should not be allowed to "unravel into a series of regional or national networks."

The paper claims that "greater international balance within the existing structures can increase the legitimacy of current governance arrangements."

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday (12 February), Kroes said the issue of internet governance was likely to rise up the political agenda in the upcoming years.

"These will be make or break years for deciding for what sort of Internet we want to have," she said, adding that "Europe must play a strong role in defining what the net of the future looks like."

But the paper's fate will depend on how much agreement on a common internet strategy can be reached between the bloc's 28 governments.

The online economy is one of the fastest growing sectors in Europe and its share of the bloc's economic output is forecast to increase from 3.8 percent in 2010 to 5.7 percent in 2016, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group.

But public trust in the web has been rocked over the past year by a series of scandals, many of them documented by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealing the scale of government surveillance by the US national security services.

The scandals are expected to have a big impact on the online economy. The US cloud industry faces up to €25.8 billion in lost revenues, according to a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

EU-US relations are already tense when it comes to regulating the web. On Wednesday MEPs backed a report calling for the suspension of two data-sharing agreements between the two blocs.

Meanwhile, a handful of governments, including Russia, China, and Brazil, have called for greater government control over the Internet.

However, Kroes said that the commission did not favour more state control of the web. "We are rejecting a United Nations or government of internet governance … we want geographic balance not government control," she said.

Instead, the EU executive favours a "multi-stakeholder" approach in which governments, industry, academics, and campaign groups, collaborate on the network's functioning.

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