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Atlanta Journal-Constitution Story on CPSR Conference  

Internet Governance Issues Debated

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
September 25, 1999
Andrew J. Glass, Cox Washington Bureau

Computer scientists, academic experts and digital entrepreneurs Friday explored the thorny technical and policy issues surrounding the system that makes the Internet work.

The two-day forum, sponsored by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, came at a time when business and government have come to a crossroads over the need to manage more than 35 million numerical Internet addresses in the United States and another 15  million around the world.

''This is the last year in which the majority of newly formed Web sites will be in English,'' said Jean Camp, the group's New England regional director and an assistant professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Camp said the Internet's explosive growth had caused its administrative structure to move from ''a self-organized meritocracy'' to one ''that involves powerful interests that have put lots of money on the table.''

''Almost anyone can screw it up, but by only so much,'' she said, referring to the Internet's inherently decentralized structure.

In a bid to maintain order, foster growth and, hopefully, retain some measure of  democracy in cyberspace, the Clinton administration last November put its weight behind a new nonprofit worldwide private body that is charged with creating competition in registering Internet addresses in the top-level domains of .com, .net and .org.

That new administrative unit is known as ICANN, for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

While the forum organizers have yet to take a policy position on ICANN, some participants fear that its current structure favors big business and government interests at the expense of nonprofit groups and free-speech advocates.

''There's a perceived lack of due process and a lack of consensus,'' said Hans Klein, who chairs the computer professionals watchdog group and is an assistant professor in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech.

One of ICANN's first self-assigned tasks is to break the government-sanctioned monopoly that Network Solutions Inc., a private company, has held on top-level Internet domain name registrations since 1993.

Seeking to break a nearly yearlong stalemate, the Commerce Department has set a target date of Sept. 30 to open the domain name registration business to full competition. ''Where is the consent of the governed in managing the Internet?'' Camp asked.

Reprinted with permission of Cox Newspapers Washington Bureau, 6 October 1999.

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