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Who owns Internet?

More of a concept than an actual tangible entity, the Internet relies on a physical infrastructure that connects networks to other networks, writes Puneet Mehrotra.

india Updated: Oct 19, 2005 18:28 IST

1647 is the number of my newly acquired monster on the road. By law I am the owner of this car and have a certificate issued by a government authority to prove my ownership. 5766 is the number of my car I sold yesterday and the ownership of this car will now be transferred to the new owner in the next few days. Elementary isn't it? Well, not so elementary when it comes to the ownership of the Internet.

There was a joke of sorts making rounds in 1998 that Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, tried to buy Internet. The problem was he couldn't find out whom to make out the check. So, who exactly owns the Internet?

An Owner for the Internet

Either nobody owns the Internet, or everybody owns the Internet, or something in between. In actual terms no one owns the Internet, and no single person or organisation controls the Internet in its entirety. More of a concept than an actual tangible entity, the Internet relies on a physical infrastructure that connects networks to other networks.

In theory, the internet is owned by everyone that uses it. Yet, in reality, certain entities exert more influence over the "mechanics" and regulation of the internet than others. There are organizations that oversee and standardize what happens on the Internet and assign IP addresses and domain names, such as the National Science Foundation, the Internet Engineering Task Force, ICANN, InterNIC and the Internet Architecture Board.

There are many organisations, corporations, governments, schools, private citizens and service providers that all own pieces of the infrastructure, but there is no one body that owns it all. Yet organizations such as such as the National Science Foundation, the Internet Engineering Task Force, ICANN, InterNIC and the Internet Architecture Board are organizations created and largely controlled by US.

The DNS of Internet

Suppose you wish to go to www.hindustantimes.com. The site's true address is a clump of numbers called the IP address. The same is true of every other computer on the Net. But imagine if we had to remember numbers to reach websites. Imagine to open Google if we had to remember its IP address 66.249.89.104 what a task it would be. To solve the problem came the American invention called the DNS i.e. the Domain Name Server concept. Computers are assigned unique names that can be remembered. Then a network of DNS computers keeps track of the numbers behind the names. When you type in a Web address, a DNS machine looks up the correct numerical address and hooks you up.

DNS is a network of thousands of computers, layered on top of the Internet. But all DNS machines ultimately report to 13 root servers, which hold the most basic Internet routing information. These 13 servers are run by a variety of organizations, ranging from the US military, to private corporations, to a European nonprofit group based in Amsterdam. Lots of the servers are located outside the United States. But all of them are overseen by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which in turn is overseen by the US Department of Commerce.

The Battle of Control

The Internet is a free media and an ultimate celebration of the free world. But the world isn't a free world as yet and the organizations controlling this free media are largely under US control.

Totalitarian regimes don't like the idea of western influences thrust upon them. According to Jon Christian Ryter of Washington Times, "They want the ability to create to create impenetrable cyberwalls around their countries to prevent western demagogues from brainwashing their "subjects" with inflammatory, indoctrinational ideological propaganda that will incite them against their masters."

The UN World Summit on the Information Society met for the first time in Geneva, Switzerland on Dec. 10-12, 2003. For the past decade the UN has been bombarded by complaints from every totalitarian regime in the world that wanted to place cyberborders along the information superhighway -roadblocks to communications with the free world.

The US Connection

Like it or not the Internet is a US creation. The DNS, the concept thru which we type names and a site opens is also a US invention. The Internet's ''root servers," a critical network of computers that makes everything else work is a US creation too. America invented and built the root server system, and still manages it. But now the whole world depends on it, and wants a say in how it's run. A decade ago the Internet just didn't matter and nobody was bothered about who was controlling it. Times have changed and now Internet is a vital means of communication and everybody wants control of it.

Chaos @ Internet

If US relinquishes control there is only one possible scenario. Chaos. Naseem Javed, a reknowned authority on cyberbrading and domain issues, says "Why should the Internet break and how ridiculous is this issue? Imagine if a few printers around the globe got together and jointly decided to replace all our current currencies and their value and choose brand new colors, designs and new values all own their own. Economy? What economy?"

eCommerce is a part of our lives today. It's a part of the global economy today. Internet is a crucial means of communication in our lives. Any breakdown and there definitely will be no winners. Losers we all will be if the issue of control isn't sorted out soon. The Internet belongs to all of us and should remain free from control the way it is. Whether the UN or anybody else, the issue here isn't of US dominance, the issue is of us, the users, who own a part of the Internet. The issue is of keeping this free media alive the way it is.

Puneet Mehrotra is a web strategist atwww.Cyberzest.comand editswww.MidnightEdition.comyou can email him on puneet@cyberzest.com