Who Controls the Internet?

The major player in terms of governing the global Internet is a rather innocent sounding company called ICANN or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

ICANN has its headquarters in California and is a non-profit company that was created in 1998 to oversee a number of Internet-related tasks that were previously performed by the U.S. Government. The tasks of ICANN include managing the assignment of Domain Names and IP addresses. Although the Internet was designed to have no central point, and in theory, any node on the network could act as a centre point; the reality is that the Internet does have quite a lot of centralised controls (as we have seen through companies such as Google).

One of these controls relates to a core feature of the Internet being its Domain Name System. The Domain Name Systems is like the Internet’s directory and it does require centralisation otherwise we wouldn’t be able to find anything on the net. A domain name, as you probably already know, simply refers to the written address that you place in your web browser such as http://www.unimelb.edu.au/ that takes you to the University of Melbourne. The browser needs to know where the files for the University of Melbourne’s web site are held and the ICANN directory points the domain name to these files.

The Domain Name System (abbreviated DNS) is an Internet directory service and is how domain names (or the words that you place in the web browser) are translated into IP address (which is the unique number of each computer connected to the Internet) and DNS also controls email delivery. If your computer cannot access the DNS system, your web browser will not be able to find web sites, and you will not be able to receive or send emails.

And the DNS system is administers by ICANN. There are 13 root DNS servers around the world that hold all the Internet’s addresses that ICANN controls and they are nearly all in the United States (although there are servers in Europe and Asia).

So the politics of the Internet is not just about the content that it contains, but also about the politics of its ‘global’ architecture.



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