If it isn't broken...

August 22, 2005

THE INTERNET has all sorts of big unresolved problems - from spam to the limited access of those living in much of the developing world.

But, by and large, it's a marvel, a world-changing technology spawned by the U.S. government but then sustained by largely private and loosely coordinated efforts that have worked so well that the Internet has quickly become essential to worldwide economic activity.

An international working group commissioned by the United Nations to study the Internet thinks that's not good enough, however. And it's come up with a set of recommendations that lean markedly toward bringing the Internet more firmly under some sort of international governance body that likely would be part of the U.N.

The group's recommendations, issued in July and a prelude to the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis this November, have been in the works for almost two years and are not surprising.

There's been worldwide grumbling - some warranted - about U.S. government domination of the Internet through the body that regulates Internet domain names (such as .com and .org). And of course, there's not now any international body to deal globally with such sweeping issues as security, privacy and spam.

All this adds up to a political vacuum that no international bureaucrat could resist. But that doesn't mean such changes would at all be for the better.

Indeed, putting the Internet under a top-down international structure likely would risk burdening it with political and bureaucratic forces that would not improve its functioning, but would slow the system's remarkable ability to adapt and expand. It also would risk giving some say over the system to nations that might seek to limit the free flow of information on the Internet.

The Internet could be improved by one of the U.N. group's recommendations: establishing a world Internet forum so that diverse international concerns could be aired. Moreover, the U.S. body managing domain names needs more international representation. There's also lots of room for improvement by nations that have restricted the Internet by intent or lack of investment.

But to attempt to impose centralized control over the Internet seems hardly beneficial and potentially destructive, so much so that it reminds us of the old adage, "If isn't broken, don't fix it."

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