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House to Vote on 'Net Governance

The U.S. House of Representatives plans to ease any doubt the United Nations may have regarding Internet governance.

The House Tuesday will look at a resolution to keep the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) under U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) control. The "Sense of the Congress "resolution also wants to keep the authoritative root zone server on U.S. soil.

The resolution, introduced last month by Rep. John Doolittle of California's 4th District, notes "that it is incumbent upon the United States and other responsible governments to send clear signals to the marketplace that the current structure of oversight and management of the Internet's domain name and addressing service works and will continue to deliver tangible benefits to Internet users worldwide in the future."

A vote is expected tonight and would require a two-thirds majority.

Although a successful vote wouldn't make the resolution a U.S. law, it would send a clear message to delegates attending the United Nation's World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia this week: We can manage the Internet just fine, thank you very much.

The U.S. and the U.N. are in the middle of a debate over Internet governance. The current U.S. administration wants to keep control of the Internet through its veto power through the DoC, while many U.N. delegates favor a global Internet governance model beholden to no single government.

The U.N. established the Working Group on Internet Governance to find ways to support its model. The group came up with four possible scenarios ranging from complete U.N. control of Internet management through a Global Internet Council, to maintaining the status quo through the ICANN with beefed-up governmental input.

But according to a report in September, David Gross, the U.S. ambassador and coordinator for international communications and information policy at the Department of State, said U.N. management would be unacceptable.

The U.S. Senate then got into the fray with a "Sense of the Senate" resolution introduced by Sen. Norm Coleman in October. Like the House resolution up for debate today, this one seeks to keep Internet governance firmly in the hands of the U.S.

Coleman, in a statement at the time, said the Internet has flourished under U.S. care and doesn't need to move to an organization that has reform problems to address.

"It is irresponsible to expand the U.N.'s portfolio before it undertakes sweeping, overdue reform," he said in the statement. "If the U.N. was unable to properly administer the Oil-for-Food Program, I am afraid what the Internet would look like under U.N. control."

Coleman's resolution was referred to the Senate committee on foreign relations, where it sits today.

ICANN itself has a fine line to tread. As a subcontractor to the DoC, it wouldn't do to come out against its U.S. bosses even though the organization has been devoting much of its energies in recent times to separating from U.S. involvement.

Until earlier this year, ICANN has been operating under the assumption it would become a self-sustaining entity representing the global community, under a 2003 amendment to the memorandum of understanding with the DoC.

That all changed in July when Michael Gallagher, assistant Commerce secretary, said the U.S. intended to retain its veto power over ICANN.

In a hedge against any possible U.N. proposals, the ICANN board of directors will meet with its Governmental Advisory Committee to discuss how to strengthen its role within the organization.

The talks are expected to occur during ICANN's public meeting in Vancouver, Canada, which starts later this month.