US government hands over power to plan the Internet

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THE United States government is preparing to relinquish overall responsibility for organisation of the Internet, passing it to a 15-member group comprising representatives of the private sector, consumer groups and Internet groups. Details of the long-awaited plan were released by the White House yesterday.

Until now, organising the Internet has been the responsibility of a company called Network Solutions, based near Washington, which works according to an exclusive US government contract. One of its main functions has been to manage the system of category names on the Net that determines the assignment and registration of suffixes in Internet addresses, such as .com, .org, .co and .gov.

The limited number of designations and the questionable consistency of the system, as well as its exclusively US provenance, have become more controversial as the number of Net sites has burgeoned. But when one of the Internet originators, Jon Postel, proposed adding labels, he came up against the exclusivity of the contract.

As well as highlighting the extent of US government control over the Internet (which can be traced back to a Cold War US defence project), Mr Postel's suggestions unleashed a free-for-all of proposals for Internet expansion and reorganisation.

According to the White House plan, arrangements for the Net would pass in stages to the new group, ending government involvement by 30 September 2000. The fact that the new group will be based in the US and comprise representatives of American concerns, however, will not please everyone. US cultural domination of the Internet, via American English, is one of the criticisms most frequently heard in the international debate about the Net naming system.