The new rulers of cyberspace

As the Internet address system goes private, some fear unaccountable oligarchy - or absolute anarchy.

SOMETHING HAPPENED last week that will fundamentally transform the Internet - and it had nothing to do with Microsoft's courtroom brawl with the US Department of Justice. With little ceremony, and virtually no media coverage, the 10 most powerful people in cyberspace were selected. Their mission: to oversee the privatisation of the address system that is the lifeblood of the Net.

Their names, with the possible exception of the technology pundit Esther Dyson, may not mean much to the average Web surfer. But the changes they will implement are momentous, freeing the Net from US governmental control.

The result, depending on who you believe, will either be a golden age of free competition and self-regulation, or the subjugation of the Internet to an unaccountable oligarchy: a privately owned toll-booth on the information superhighway.

The addressing system - which allocates domain names, such as, and matches them with numerical addresses, allowing traffic to flow online - has long been administered under US government contract by a private firm, Network Solutions, and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). But faced with international pressure, and overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task - Network Solutions can register 7,000 new domain names in a single day - Washington has been trying to extricate itself or the last two years.

The team named last week will include an executive committee made up of Dyson, who was chosen interim chairman; Michael Roberts, interim president and CEO; Gregory L Crew of Australia; and Hans Kraaijenbrink of the Netherlands. Other initial board members include Geraldine Capdeboscq of France; George H Conrades of the United States; Frank Fitzsimmons of the United States; Jun Murai of Japan; Eugenio Triana of Spain; and Linda S Wilson, president of Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Together they constitute the embryonic form of the private, non-profit body that will take over the job. In a field where inventing a new acronym is always to be preferred to recycling an old one, the organisation has been optimistically baptised ICANN: the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

As well as administering the most popular "top-level" domains - .com, .org, .net, .edu and .gov - ICANN will be able to create new ones, such as the much-touted .store for retail operations and .per for personal homepages. Private companies will then be permitted to establish registries dispensing the new domains to businesses and individuals. Ira Magaziner, President Clinton's chief adviser on Internet policy, summarised his hopes for the new arrangement earlier this year with a barrage of upbeat adjectives: the new body would be "non-profit, independent, decentralised, transparent, international and focused on a limited set of tasks".

Others, though, have grave doubts. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is spearheading calls for the new rulers of cyberspace to be made more accountable. Otherwise, says Barry Steinhardt, the foundation's president, "We'll have a private corporation running a public trust, administering much of the infrastructure of the Internet without constraints. ICANN is going be in a position to recognise, or refuse to recognise, the existence of entities on the Internet. So, hypothetically, if Amnesty International wants to register the name, ICANN would be in a position to say they couldn't - for totally arbitrary reasons."

The Internet consultant Gordon Cook, in his online publication The Cook Report, seems even more concerned. "What gives [the designers of ICANN] the right to function by stealth as the designers of Internet governance for the entire world? They say they are benevolent, but they have deceived the rest of us to create an ICANN that clearly fails the tests that the US government has set for it," he writes.

Then there's the alternative nightmare vision - not of shadowy oligarchy but chaotic anarchy. As top-level domains proliferate, so will opportunities for so-called "warehousers" to register company domain names, demanding inflated prices to release them: a headache for big business and a cause, no doubt, of much glee among the growing ranks of Internet lawyers.

Whatever version of the future proves correct, says Jonathan Zittrain, the executive director of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the cumulative power of the huge online community of ordinary users could yet give them the last word. "The hope is that out of a process that hasn't been entirely open you arrive miraculously at a new organisation that is. That's exactly the stage we're at now. [ICANN's] bylaws have huge holes in them, especially regarding accountability, but if they don't handle it well, they'll be tossed out."

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas