When domestic and international organizations with key stakes in governing the Internet meet in Singapore starting Sunday, they'll face a major task that begins with the question: What's next?
At issue: Establishing a new global Internet steering committee after the U.S. Commerce Department announced it will no longer supervise the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the outfit that doles out Internet domain names and dot-com addresses.
With the U.S. government effectively giving up oversight of the Internet—now one of the chief mediums of global commerce and communications—should anyone in the U.S., or anywhere else, be concerned?
Most experts and observers don't think so, but to make that determination it helps to know what ICANN is, and how it came to be.
The nonprofit ICANN, composed of governments, telecom corporations and technical experts, has overseen the Internet since 1998, performing the kind of arcane work that's central to the World Wide Web's successful functioning.
Since the U.S. Defense Department played such a key role in developing the Internet in the 1960s, most Internet housekeeping chores and issues tied to technical integrity—including overseeing ICANN—have fallen to the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
That organization hasn't ruled with a heavy hand. But from time to time, some international organizations and nations have suggested that the U.S. has abused its power to control the Internet in one way or another.
Those vague suspicions came to the fore in the last year following Edward Snowden's revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency spies on foreign governments. In line with that, U.S. government observers argue that the Commerce Department's move to relinquish oversight ties to ICANN is as much a diplomatic step as it is a decision tied to broadening the organization's worldwide base.