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U.S. set to relinquish control of the Internet

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U.S. officials released details of a plan on Friday to give up federal control over the administration of the Internet, a decision that that meets with approval from international critics but nevertheless alarmed a number of U.S. business leaders who rely on smooth operation and functioning of the Web.

The Washington Post reported that pressure had been mounting on the U.S. government for more than 10 years to give up control of the last vestiges of the system of Web addresses and domain names that keep the Internet organized. Criticism of U.S. control increased dramatically following revelations that the National Security Agency was conducting global surveillance using the Internet.

According to the Post, the decision would mean that the long-running contract between the U.S. Commerce Department and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, a California-based nonprofit organization, would be allowed to expire next year.

However, the paper said, that contract could be extended if no transition plan is put in place.

“We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan,” said Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, in a statement.

As expected, the announcement generated much passion among supporters, for certain, but especially among critics.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W. Va., said in a statement that the move was “consistent with other efforts the U.S. and our allies are making to promote a free and open Internet, and to preserve and advance the current multi-stakeholder model of global Internet governance.”

However, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gringrich tweeted, “What is the the global internet community that Obama wants to turn the internet over to? This risks foreign dictatorships defining the internet.”

U.S. officials downplayed the decision as having anything to do with the NSA spying.

“The timing is now right to start this transition both because ICANN as an organization has matured, and international support continues to grow for the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance,” Strickling said.

While the federal government is denying the decision is tied to fallout over the NSA spying scandal, the timing is nonetheless suspect. And critics' take aside, it's not likely that the government would permit the Internet's system of organization to be relinquished to a hostile entity at the worst, or one that was incapable of managing it in the least.

That said, a number of U.S.-based experts have said that ICANN's operation of the Internet organizational system has been hamstrung in part by conflicting corporate interests and favoritism.