US pledges to loosen grip on net. Don't be fooled

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[Commentary] The US government announced, in a smart front-footed move, that it intends to release oversight of its long-treasured Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) contract under which the US Commerce Department contracts Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a private US company, to perform key Internet administration tasks.

This prescriptive, carefully-limited announcement is the long-awaited fulfilment of a promise made 16 years ago when ICANN first came into being, and it would be the first time since the net's inception that the US government would abandon formal oversight. Of course, US vested interests in ICANN as a US-based company, subject to US law, and partial to US industry, remain, as does the almighty US technical and economic leverage over the digital ecosystem.

Contrary to reactions by US conservatives, this recent move barely diminishes that control, at least not immediately. Instead, it marks an early strategic play by the US to control future discussions of net governance. What it changes, to uncertain ends, is the balance of power between US public and private interests. We are moving inexorably towards a situation where enormous amounts of control are centered in private hands, often beyond the scope of effective regulation. This should be a matter of great concern.

[Powles researches and writes on law, science and technology at the University of Cambridge]

US pledges to loosen grip on net. Don't be fooled