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This is how Microsoft will end up running the Internet

Be afraid, be very afraid

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Dear The Register

Your Internet licence is due for renewal in two weeks. Please contact your local Microsoft branch for an extension. If you do not pay within 30 days of the termination date, we will downgrade your connection. There will be a $500 reconnection charge.

Yours,

Microsoft Corporation

Okay, so that may be a little over the top but following a conversation with new boys/cowboys New.net, the very real possibility of a Microsoft-owned Internet draws closer. Not just a Microsoft-owned Net though. There'll also be an AOL/Time Warner-owned Internet. And if we're lucky a third, conglomeration Internet for homepages and the like.

Oh, and we almost forgot, the original Internet infrastructure that was built by those tech-heads that formed ICANN (you remember them?).

What are we talking about? New.net. The company is currently lobbying ISPs, journalists, ICANN and anyone else that matters that it has the key to the future of the Internet. It makes a seductive argument. Domain names, as they stand, are hopelessly inadequate. The current system is slow, pernicious, stuck in the status quo, out-of-date.

New.net is offering the domain name extensions that ICANN won't. It does it by running them as a form of sub-domain of its own site, so pie.shop is actually pie.shop.new.net. But by introducing New.net on the bottom of the DNS search, it does so seamlessly.

ICANN is running round exclaiming that people are destabilising the Internet - but are they? No one can agree.

The future of the Internet, New.net says, is to open domain names to the market. Let ICANN run the foundation of the Internet - protocols and the like - but with the free market rushing about above it. This will open the Net up, give people what they want and enable it to grow as fast as the demand for it grows.

In short, all the old free market theories attached to the Internet. But if experience of modern capitalism has taught us anything it is that it will eventually resort to one, two or three main players who leverage their power in a market to suck as much money as possible their way.

New.net was proud to tell that it had signed up five of the top seven ISPs in the US. Who were the two missing? AOL and Microsoft. Admittedly, they may deem New.net too unimportant or too non-advantageous to them to bother.

It may also be that they see something here. New.net is hoping to expand the Internet from within. It makes some good arguments and if it is to be believed, it has the backing of a number of people on the ICANN board. Outside of ICANN, important figures within the Internet industry are also growing tired.

Are we looking at a future Internet run by private companies? Techies replaced by suits? If New.net wins its argument, then yes. New.net itself says it can see four or five different versions of itself. It works by adding its DNS servers to the Internet's main servers. It requires just a small change to your OS.

And who else is in the position to do this on a huge scale? A company that runs most of the world's OSes - er, Microsoft. Or the biggest ISP/content provider in the world - er, AOL-Time Warner. Follow this logic through and you have company-run and owned Internets. Internets that companies can market, pull all the main players into through deals and sell to the world's consumers through advertising.

Nonsense, you say? What is there to stop them? And can you even imagine the power/money/control that being in such a position would grant you?

We raised this very scenario with the chief marketing officer for New.net Steve Chadima. He looked like he had genuinely not thought of it. After pressing him for a response, he simply admitted that yes, theoretically, Microsoft could use Windows to force itself into Internet infrastructure. He wouldn't go any further.

It is all too plausible. And if those magic words "choice", "freedom" and "profit" become attached, it damn well will happen. ®

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