It appears that the US government is tip toeing toward reliquishing control of the Internet, and The Register explains in a long and intersting article. I thought these comments were particularly interesting:
It was apparent from the carefully selected panel and audience members that the internet – despite its global reach – remains an English-speaking possession. Not one of the 11 panel members, nor any of the 22 people that spoke during the meeting, had anything but English as their first language. While talk centered on the future of the internet and its tremendous global influence, the people that sat there discussing it represented only a tiny minority of those that now use the internet every day. Reflections on the difficulty of expanding the current internet governance mechanisms to encompass the global audience inadvertently highlighted the very parochialism of those that currently form the ICANN in-crowd. When historians come to review events in Washington on 26 July 2006, they will no doubt be reminded of discussions in previous centuries over why individual citizens should be given a vote. Or, perhaps, why landowners or the educated classes shouldn’t be given more votes than the masses.
On some level, this is obviously right. The Internet is now used by a great many non-Americans, and it’s understandable that they’d like some input into ICANN’s decisions. But I think the “democratic” frame for thinking about the issue is somewhat wrongheaded. The Internet is not a democratic country, and ICANN isn’t its government.
As I wrote last fall, ICANN’s actual powers are very limited, and it’s important they stay that way. In some ways an ICANN that lacks democratic legitimacy is a good thing, because it will keep them from throwing their weight around. As long as ICANN remains apolitical and technically competent, I don’t think it matters very much what country its board members are from.
Of course, there’s also the very real danger that if ICANN opens up too slowly, other countries will attempt to stage an anti-ICANN coup. The confusion that could cause would be far worse than the occasional idiotic decisions that ICANN makes now. So basically, I’m in favor of ICANN opening up as slowly as it can get away with without running the risks of a mutiny.