Who owns the Internet? Is it the US Government?

Nobody and yet everybody owns the internet! The network of internet was originally developed by the US Government because it had provided necessary funds to the ministry of defense (Pentagon) and the participating research universities. Had internet been invented by private sector then the inventor company would have put it in the market on commercial basis but in the capitalist USA neither the government nor the universities carrying out research from the funds provided by the government indulge in business. The US government has stuck to the wise policy of not riding two horses – governance and business – at the same time. Earlier also, the government had transferred the inventions of AM and FM radio, and UHF television to the private sector after sponsoring them with the public funds. Although the US Government has not given up control of internet’s backbone-like core cable network, it has refrained from harnessing this monopoly for profit making.

As a result, a number of internet service providers (ISPs) sprang up in the private sector. They created their own small and local networks of subscribers and linked them with the internet. In this manner the coverage of internet went on expanding till it became worldwide network. The last vestige of US Government’s ownership over internet was severed during Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1998 when the internet’s domain name system which authenticates electronic addresses of the internet users, was transferred to private companies.

Although internet is no longer owned by the American Government, it is still in the position to exercise some indirect control over it. Hence, in a way, it will not be entirely correct to say that internet is completely independent of the US Government. Now the authority for authentication of domain names or online addresses of internet users vests with Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers / ICANN which has its headquarters in California State of the USA. Suffixes following the names in the domain names such as .com, .org, .edu etc also must have prior approval of this agency. Since this corporation is under control of US Department of Commerce, the control in respect of domain names is ultimately in the hands of the government. Therefore, in the ultimate analysis, the US Government has the casting vote on who is to be admitted to the internet (or not). As this situation is not acceptable to some countries, they would like to have ICANN under international control.

More reading:
Internet (Wikipedia)
ICANN (Wikipedia)

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