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EU outlines future net governance

Big changes coming at the top

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An oversight body of international governments will decide the top-level of the internet from now on, pulling it away from the US government and enshrining the revolutionary medium in international law.

That is the position taken by the EU, which is currently cutting a deal with other nations including Brazil, Canada and China, to end two weeks of argument at the PrepCom3 conference in Geneva.

The UK/EU representative, David Hendon told us that a new co-operative model would build on the existing ICANN organisation but that "its legal status has to change. It will need to be established under international law rather than US law".

"At the moment," he continued, "ICANN works to a contract from one government, and the governments advise it what to do. It's kind of strange for governments to be advising a public sector body and for that body to be doing things for the whole world under the instruction of one government."

That is not a criticism of the US' stewardship of the internet up to now, Hendon stressed, which has "done a good job", but "you can see for some countries it is impossible to leave their country's bit of the internet in the hands of a government where they quite often have disagreements."

Too much of a gap

He also strongly disputed that removing the US government's executive control would see the internet's flexibility suffer. "The really important point, which I want to emphasise, is that the EU doesn't want to see this change as bringing new government control over the internet. Governments will only be involved where they need to be and only on issues setting the top-level framework. We don't want to get involved in controlling the Net. We want business to continue to invest, we want innovation to continue to happen. Businesses can move much more quickly than governments can."

As for the US constant emphasis on security and stability, the EU's stance is that that is something it had hoped the conference would help improve but so far it hasn't had the prominence it should have done.

The deal between the EU and other nations are far from settled however. "Personally, right now, I think it is unlikely we will strike a deal here [there are only eight hours left], there is still too much of a gap."

However, Hendon acknowledged that the dramatic change in position late on Wednesday came as a result of a "feeling that the summit was going nowhere". "We wanted to shake things up a bit," he explained. "And in effect, we have come out in public with what privately we hoped we would achieve."

But the EU is at its end point and unwilling to negotiate further away form its position. As for the US, which has greeted the EU's sudden stance with a mixture of irritation and incredulity, "the US has some very firm red lines and at the moment we have crossed one of them. We're not sure where the resolution is but we're sure there will be some resolution at some stage."

With a PrepCom4 ruled out, and the World Summit in Tunis in November, there is not much time but the one thing that everyone can agree on is that there will be agreement. ®

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