US control over how Internet addresses are assigned, defining how people around the world access e-mail and Web sites, dominated discussions as a major UN conference on the Internet opened yesterday.
While few participants at the Internet Governance Forum attacked the US directly, most were well aware of the role Americans play in crafting domain name policies, including whether and how to assign suffixes in languages besides English.
"The Internet is transnational. It can't be under the authority of one country," said Brazil's Culture Minister Gilberto Gil. "The Internet should be the territory of everyone."
The forum, an annual conference to discuss issues including spam and cheaper Web access, has no decision-making powers. At most, those seeking change can use the conference to pressure the United States to step back.
At issue is control over domain names like "com" and "org," which computers need to find Web sites and route e-mail. By controlling the core systems, the US indirectly influences much of what appears online.
The US government, which funded much of the Internet's early development, delegated domain-name policies to a Marina del Rey, Calif-based nonprofit, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, over which the US retains veto power.
Many countries complained US influence wasn't discussed enough during the first Internet Governance Forum last year in Athens, and preceded this year's conference with panel devoted to "critical Internet resources".