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Abstract

Most people surf the Internet with little concern for who makes decisions regarding Internet administrative matters and who has the authority to make those decisions. Initially, as the Internet evolved out of a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1969, many "founder groups," such as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, formed under the auspices of the federal government to administer the network's development. While these groups continue to function today as the main decision-making bodies over all aspects of the Internet's governance, several newer organizations, such as the Internet Society, have taken an important role in the process. Although these Internet governing bodies are interrelated, the association between them is complex and murky. As the federal government plans to withdraw from active participation in the Internet's administration, and the Federal Communications Commission refuses to regulate the network, one of the founder groups has called for a "legal umbrella" under which all of the governing bodies can operate. Without such an umbrella, the Internet organizations will face challenges to their claimed authority over the Internet, and the looming legal void may lead the Internet into a black hole of litigation, particularly with regard to domain name conflicts. Such disputes have already arisen, including international problems arising from registrations in the popular .com international top-level domain ("iTLD") and competing claims of trademark rights in domain names. In 1997, an ad hoc committee formed by several of the Internet organizations and other entities proposed a comprehensive solution to such international domain name conflicts. While this is a positive development that reflects sensitivity to the international implications of decisions affecting Internet governance, acceptance of the proposal is unlikely where the system threatens fundamental rights. In addition, the proposal does not solve the core issue of legal authority, and the prospect of conflicting regulation worldwide as well as within the United States exists even if the proposal is adopted by the global Internet community. Legislative action within the United States may avoid this piecemeal and inconsistent regulation and place the Internet's administration on a healthy legal foundation for the next stage of its development. Such legislation would clarify the jurisdiction and authority of those Internet groups deemed necessary for Internet administration. The legislation would also designate a single federal agency as a liaison between those groups, having the power to preempt state and local regulation of Internet administration. More ambitiously, on the global scale, the Internet needs an international agreement on the structure of Internet governance. Though some may resist any legislation or international agreements, the history of the development of radio broadcasting after World War I demonstrates that the Internet requires such organization to sort out conflicting claims, impart some order and promote the future development of the Internet.

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