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EU deal threatens end to US dominance of internet

Last-minute talks at PrepCom3

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A dramatic last-minute deal drawn up by the EU may mark the end of the US government's control of the internet.

The UK, acting as European representative, stunned delegates from around the world during a late-night session on Wednesday when it produced a series of paragraphs that effectively outlined the end of the US-created internet infrastructure.

It called for a "new co-operation model" that would not only oversee public policy matters but also create procedures for changing the internet's "root zone file", managers of country domains (such as .uk or .de), create a new arbitration service for the internet, and produce rules to cover the domain name system (DNS).

In essence, a new version of the current overseeing body ICANN and an end to the US government's overall control of the DNS.

The US was scathing about the proposals, within minutes telling delegates that it "can't in any way allow any changes" that would prevent it from having overall control of the internet.

The next day, the US ambassador David Gross remained equally unimpressed. "It seems to me to be a potentially historic shift in policy by the European Union - to be a much more top-down, 'governments should control technical aspects of the Internet' approach," he told us. "Something that as you know is not the policy of the United States."

Likeminded group

But the proposal is there and the UK explained it was intended to help parties from both ends of the spectrum reach agreement. Even so, that aim looked shaky until a second surprise move when Thursday's late-night meeting was adjourned early for the EU to review bridging proposals provided by Brazil which opened the way for a worldwide consensus.

Brazil, along with Iran, Cuba, China and others has created an impromptu "Likeminded Group" at the PrepCom3 meeting in Geneva that has continually insisted on the removal of US control.

Brazil's ambassador, Antonio Porto, outlined his perspective to us: "It is not a question of being anti-ICANN, it's about having a very clear and open and democratic and inclusive mechanism of overview of certain functions that today are performed by ICANN with no kind of supervision."

The UN's special adviser for internet governance, Nitin Desai, told us that the issue of control was particularly stark for developing nations, where the internet is not so much an entertainment or e-commerce medium but a vital part of the country's infrastructure.

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