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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Retains Control of Internet

TUNIS, Tunisia -- The United States claimed victory in the contest to control the computers crucial for directing Internet traffic, but the European Union and other nations said the debate was far from over.

World leaders last week approved a plan to leave Washington squarely in charge, as they wrapped up a three-day UN technology summit in Tunisia's capital.

The EU and a host of other countries said, however, that summit delegates had simply delayed the battle by another day by agreeing to set up another multinational forum for debate, instead of tackling the issue now.

They also noted that there were no guarantees the new forum would deal with their concerns about leaving only a few countries -- nevermind just the United States on its own -- to make key decisions about domain names and the computers that direct the Internet's flow of information, commerce and dissent.

The computers, known as root servers, act as the Internet's master directories so web browsers and e-mail programs can find other computers. Users around the world check those directories millions of times per day without ever knowing it.

Pakistan and other countries wanted an international body, such as the United Nations, to take over the directories.

But as time for debate ran out, negotiators agreed late Tuesday to a create an open-ended, nonbinding international forum for raising important Internet issues.

On Friday at the UN World Summit on the Information Society, the delegates from 174 countries approved a five-page platform outlining the future of Internet governance, along with prescriptions for expanding access worldwide and guarding the free flow of information, ideas and knowledge.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to convene the new Internet Governance Forum early next year. A precise location had not yet been selected, though Greece has offered to host.

Details of the forum's agenda were still being worked out, but organizers said it would bring together government, business and civil leaders, and could cover spam, cybercrime and other issues beyond the addressing system.

Because negotiators had watered down language of the platform to reach agreement, many questions remain about how the forum might influence the United States and the quasi-independent agency to which it had delegated authority, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.

"The real result of WSIS [World Summit] is that the debate over ICANN and Internet governance will be prolonged for another five years," said Milton Mueller, an Internet governance expert at Syracuse University, in New York state. "The U.S. can claim a short-term victory, but faces a long-term war of attrition that will gradually erode its position."

But on the sidelines, other delegates acknowledged the deal was vague.

"We haven't resolved everything, but the principle is that all governments have an equal role in responsibility," said Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, the UN agency that organized the summit.

The 25-member EU bloc said the deal would, in the end, give more countries a voice on domain name policies, including the prickly situation of providing domain suffixes in languages other than English.

EU spokesman Martin Selmayr said the final "inclusive and global" deal was largely based on the EU's proposal, particularly the creation of the international forum and a declaration that no country should be involved in decisions affecting another country's country-code suffix, such as ".cn" for China.

Though the EU did not get all it wanted, it got "a framework for a more international approach," Selmayr said. "That is, for us, the important development."