January 16, 2007 3:43 PM PST

U.S.: No Net governance changes expected

WASHINGTON--Are tensions related to the United States' historic influence over key Internet management functions a thing of the past?

Two senior Bush administration officials involved in setting Net policy say that's the case.

At a meeting here organized by the Federal Communications Bar Association, U.S. Ambassador David Gross and Assistant Secretary of Commerce John Kneuer said they view the question as settled: no United Nations body will be exercising additional control over tasks like handing out numeric Internet addresses or operating the root servers that power the Internet anytime soon.

They said they were encouraged that the new leadership of the International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. agency, claims to be more interested in focusing on promoting cybersecurity and bridging the so-called digital divide than on setting up a new management structure for the Net, as some have called for in the past.

"That's very much in harmony with our views," said Gross, whose chief responsibility is coordinating international communications and information policy.

In a familiar refrain, the ambassador said the United States doesn't believe it's appropriate for the ITU to take on expanded Internet management responsibilities because the system is fine as is. He predicted that future international meetings called Internet Governance Forums would center less on who's managing the Net's technical functions and more on issues like freedom of speech and multilingualism.

The officials' rosy outlook likely stems in large part from remarks given in Geneva last week by new ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure, whose term is scheduled to last until 2010.

According to various press reports, Toure, an electrical engineer from Mali, said at his first press conference that it was not his intention for the ITU "to take over the governance of Internet." Rather, the international group plans to forge ahead with the existing setup, headed largely by the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which remains under the U.S. Department of Commerce's supervision.

Whether those predictions will prove accurate remains to be seen. As recently as last fall's Internet Governance Forum in Greece, then-ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi accused the United States of using "self-serving justifications" to argue that the existing arrangement is the best.

Representatives from countries such as Tunisia, Cuba, Iran, China and many less developed nations also have criticized the current system, charging that it gives the United States undue influence over the day-to-day operations of the Internet. Some have suggested the need to create a new international "superstructure" to dull the United States' influence, and the topic is expected to be discussed at a U.N. summit in Brazil in late 2007.

For years, the U.S. government has been saying it ultimately intends to shift ICANN, which has operated under the auspices of the U.S. Commerce Department since 1998, into the private sector with less government oversight.

Assistant Secretary Kneuer indicated that he also was pleased that the ITU planned to distance itself from the technical management debate but said "coordinating the transition of the (domain name system) to the private sector...remains important for us."

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.

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