Let’s continue the article about Internet governance and today, for its second half, tell you just few words about the particular case of the United States.
As expected by anyone (at least due to individual intuition) a quasi-unanimous sense of some US global dominance seems to reign among Internet users minds all over the world when it comes to US influence on global Internet.
Starting with very seriously documented analyses produced by highly-specialized Doctors in Law and up to any non-specialist user posting in worldwide spread forums on such topic, a vast majority (Americans included, isn’t it kind of strange?!) seems to express concern if not discontent regarding the alleged US dominance.
So our first big question would be: frankly, why would someone feel that way?
Just asking because well, to begin with, this is an US invention, isn’t it so?
And it started up as an US-budget funded project (i.e., using the money from American taxpayers) and then all its major subsequent developments have happened in the USA too.
And nowhere else whatsoever.
Secondly, it is supposed to be universal.
But its universality inherently implies one unique point of control too, otherwise all participants (like national-states for example) might end-up adopting their own standards for each self. Technically it would create nothing else but frontiers just like the physical ones.
In other words, no Internet as we know it today.
That is, because whenever a bunch of equals have to make a centralized decision over a commonly governed subject, there will always have to be a “first among equals” (or as George Orwell in his allegorical novel Animal Farm brutally puts it, “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others” ).
And this is just rock-solid proved human nature folks, no conspiracy at all!
So why wouldn’t they be the most equal among the rest of the world ?
As for the third argument, consider just this: countries like Syria, Russia, Iran, China or say, Bangladesh (we’re strictly talking about Internet, we never ever talk politics or whatever alike) don’t exactly enjoy immaculate reputation, right?
And yet, Apple’s Steve Jobs father is Syrian, Google’s Sergey Brin is Russian-born, eBay’s Pierre Omidyar parents are Iranians who moved from Iran to France then to the USA, Yahoo’s Jerry Yang and YouTube’s Steve Chen are both Taiwanese-born americans, while YouTube’s Jawed Karim father is from Bangladesh.
So we’re talking here about Apple, Google, eBay, Yahoo and YouTube, about how national-descent doesn’t matter if being able to freely cross frontiers and finally about the fact that all above mentioned persons were established in the USA prior to building whatever they’ve built to become personalities instead of just persons.
Makes some sense?
And here comes our second big question which is: why would someone not feel concerned about US dominance over the Internet?
Well, in our previous article and even in the one before we’ve briefly explained you about how DNS works.
But there’s yet more to say: suppose you are typing in your browser a www worded address such as, for example, “www.megaupload.com.”
Perhaps much to your surprise, when getting your request from your browser, the DNS first looks at the ending part of the worded address, which in this example is “.com”.
For us humans, it’s surely the “megaupload” part that really matters first but for any DNS the ending part (the suffix) comes first.
That’s its architecture and this is why the ending letters after the last dot in an address is called Top Level Domain (TLD).
DNS servers maintain lists of all adresses for each TLD (such as .com, .org, .net, .gov, or country-code TLD (Cc TLD), i.e. the ones like .fr for France, .uk for UK, .de for Germany, you get the idea) but these lists, in order not to possibly be maliciously replaced, are primarily being kept on some authoritative servers (and known as such inside the entire DNS world) getting the info from servers called the DNS root servers.
And as due to architecture technical reasons there can be only 13 logical root servers, conspiracy theories quickly spread around claiming that the US are controling the Internet world via the alleged 13, carefully watched for, “the chosen ones“, special DNS servers.
That is, the ones containing the precious files about the ultimately truthful tables of translation between worded and IP addresses, the “master-copies” of the Universe of the Internet, based on which all other DNS servers in the world can work based on trust.
And actually the conspiracy ideas spread so largely that ICANN (oh yes, “they cann” sometimes, as you’ll see below) had to release an official statement to explain that the 13 figure here is logical not numerical and that in reality, there are several thousands of such servers spreaded strategically around the Earth.
And they provided locations on map too.
But there is no smoke without fire: the 13 logical servers are identified by letters from “a” to “m” and all “a” root servers (along with the “j” ones) are actually being operated, well, not by an international organization, nor by an American state authority but by an American privately-held company named Verisign.
The same company which, in addition, holds patents (yes, you heard right) for the most trusted top-level domains in the world such as .com, .net or .gov.
So, getting back to our Internet address name example above, when US law enforcement authorities wanted to seize the “www.megaupload.com” domain, they did it by probably kindly asking the ICANN (which is an international body, of course, but their headquarters are located on American soil) to kindly ask Verisign (which is a private business, of course, but with emotional connections with neutral international bodies such as ICANN) to kindly remove the “www.megaupload.com” adress from the master tables.
And poof!, all of a sudden, the “megaupload.com” address instantly vanished from the face of the Earth.
So apparently Verisign can have lots of fun, should they ever want to.
After all, some 14 years ago they’ve paid 21 billion USD for it.
But getting back to our main subject, controling the Internet is not only about DNS and TLD lists of addresses resolving.
It is also about search engines: without them it is almost impossible to conceive decent browsing. What would the net be like without Americans Google, Bing or Yahoo?
Maybe this will explain a bit why major wannabe players developed Yandex (in Russia) or Baidu (in China) or the European Union’s but French designed and mainly engineerd, Quaero.
It is also about free email services or even social networks (for the addicted ones) not to mention Maps or various services like Translation (if you think translation is less relevant, let’s discuss this again in a few years).
And it is also about constantly attempting to push its own influence: Google runs its own private DNS network and acts like a constantly growing ISP, Cisco provided Chinese government with hardware for their “Great Firewall of China” survelliance project and even made a few router models over which users had no control except for switching the power off.
Operating Systems and browsers can be (and actually are) also a matter of debate.
So all in all, yes, the USA actually has the upper hand when it comes to Internet governance.
But they also have some history and facts legitimating this.
And thus, the conclusion is that despite apparently impersonating dreams of being a virtual space without frontiers and home for the free expression virtual territory, the Internet is actually rather reflecting the actual status of world politics, including wars between states (does Stuxnet ring a bell?) or cold-wars between super-powers to globally control it.
Well, all that being said, we are going to end this article now.
But not without adding that you and us are going to meet again in 2 weeks.
Because, given the Holidays, next week’s article on this blog will be written by Santa Claus himself!
Apparently he wishes to use our blog platform to send a message to our readers and to all users of our GdPicture.NET SDK, PaperScan, ORPALIS PDF Reducer, ORPALIS free Virtual Barcode Reader and ORPALIS free DICOM Viewer products.
So, should you wish to, meet him next week here then meet us again starting the week after!