Filipino social critic and activist Robert Verzola described the internet as such: Whether it was an information highway or plaza, the image was that of a public facility, maintained by public funds and open to all.

However, with the increasing privatisation of the information economy, the power to control the internet was placed in the hands of the cyberlords--those who own the communications channels, routers and servers; the service providers; the search engines; the portals; and who rent out space or time to users of such facilities.

Verzola cited four elements that exercise a powerful influence in the content and direction of the internet: corporate ownership of the hardware and service infrastructures; assignment of Internet Protocol (IP) network addresses; the domain name system (DNS); and technical standards.

Presently, the assignment of IP address and country code (ccTLD) Top-Level Domain name system (DNS) management are held by the US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

ICANN maintains control in cyberspace

Since 1998, ICANN, a private nonprofit California corporation, has been overseeing the worlds internet infrastructure.

At the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Tunisia from November 16 to 18, 2005, the US once again gained control over the internet for the next five years since no oversight body was created to govern the ICANN.

A letter from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who was then acting in the role of president of the European Union (EU), played a big part in the decision to allow the US to retain control over ICANN.

These structures have proven to be a reliable foundation for the robust growth of the internet we have seen over the course of the last decade. We also expressed our support for ICANN as the appropriate private sector technical coordinator of the internets domain name and addressing system, Rices letter stated.

In particular, control of DNS confers ICANN with substantial power over the internet, stated ICANNWatch, a watchdog group that publishes ICANN-related news and articles.

Whoever controls the DNS decides what new families of top-level domain names can exist (e.g., new suffixes like .xxx or .union) and how names and essential routing numbers will be assigned to websites and other internet resources.

As a non-profit organisation, ICANN is subject to minimal accountability, unlike other corporations that have shareholders and competitors.

This control can be seen in the wide influence the US has over the nets content. According to the World Fact Book (2002), the US presently has the biggest number of internet hosts at 115,311,958 sites. This figure is 10 times higher than Japan, its nearest rival.

Jason Miller, staffwriter for WebProNews said, The internet is the most recent and the most sinister facet of American cultural imperialism to emerge: the internet is anchored in the US; the vast majority of world wide web sites are based in the US and are in English; most softwares used to navigate the internet are in English, and search engines are in English.

Internet governance at the WSIS

The 2005 WSIS originally meant to tackle the implementation of the first phase of the WSIS Geneva plan and financing mechanisms. Instead, the issues were drowned in the arguments over internet control.
FYI

An alternative to bridging the digital divide is the Simputer, a portable PC designed to provide universal access to the South. The
pocket computer runs on AAA batteries, has a 320 x 240-cm screen, 32MB RAM, and runs on a GNU/Linux operating system. At USD 200 per unit, developers believe that the cost may still be expensive for poor communities. However, they suggest sharing devices and hiring out units to individuals. Shared Simputers could be made available in rural schools, community halls or other accessible areas.

Isis Executive Director Raijeli Nicole observed, WSIS got caught up with internet governance, and neglected the other equally important aspects of the information society, such as bridging the digital divide. The digital divide refers to the differing amount of information between those who have access to the Internet (specially broadband access) and those who do not have access to it. If they want to solve the digital divide, why not make cheap alternatives? asked Nicole. Nicole also expressed her disapproval of WSIS results, particularly in the decision to allow the US to retain control of cyberspace.

Were not happy with the US which already has supremacy in current geopoliticshaving sole ownership of one resource, particularly the internet, Nicole said. She added, The Norths greatest power lies not in economics and politics but in its ability to define meanings, cultures and identities.

Because of the internets vast potential to help developing communities, there is need to rethink internet governance. Internet has the potential to be a liberating space for women and marginalised communities. It needs to be offered in a people-centred space not censored or controlled by one entity, said Nicole.

Sources:

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). (2005, December 21). ICANN Information. Retrieved from <http://www.icann.org/general/>.

ICANNWatch. (2006, February 23). A beginners guide to ICANN. Retrieved from <http://www.icannwatch.org/icann4beginners.shtml>.

McCarthy, Keiran. (2005, May 13).* *The letter that won the Internet governance battle. /Third //World Resurgence/ (184) Retrieved from <www.theregister.co.uk>.

McCarthy, Keiran. (January 2006.) US still in charge of the Internet. /The Register/ (184). Retrieved from <www.theregister.co.uk>.

Miller, Jason Lee. (2005, May 13). Google, the French and world domination: The culture war begins. Retrieved from <http://www.webpronews.com/insiderreports/searchinsider/wpn-49-20050513GoogleTheFrenchandWorldDominationTheCultureWarBegins.html>.

The Simputer FAQ. (2001, May 5). Retrieved from <http://www.simputer.org/simputer/faq/>.

Verzola, R. (March 2004). /Towards a political economy of information/. Foundation for Nationalist Studies.

Wiyanto, Tifani. (2004, October 29). Cultural imperialism - American domination of the internet. Retrieved from <http://wiki.media-culture.org.au/index.php?title=Cultural_Imperialism_-_American_Domination_of_the_Internet&printable=yes>.

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