Who really runs the Internet?

Congress officially voted today and failed to block turning over control of the IANA.

The organization that “runs” the Internet is not the US Government or the United Nations – it is The Internet Society. Prior to 1992, what we now call The Internet was a network that connected Universities. As the technical bugs were worked out, pressure grew to make the Internet available to the masses. Recognizing that governments and corporations would want to control the Internet, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn formed the Internet Society to insure that this creation would be as open as possible and fight against government interference that would limit the potential of the Internet around the world.

The Internet Society has 80,000 members who function to guide the development of the Internet. Funding comes from the members, including corporate members, some of whom you would recognize, mostly internet providers like AT&T and equipment manufacturers like Cisco and Nortel.

Influence is not so much what a company gives in cash, but what they provide in technical discussions and research. There are different organizations that do parts of the work of making the Internet work. The geeky group is the Internet Engineering Taskforce (IETF). They are the incredibly boring people behind the scenes, similar to the radio engineer at a radio station. They don’t give a damn what the station does, they focus on keeping the transmitter working and thinking about how to improve it down the road.

The W3C focuses on how the World Wide Web works. While “the web” is the only part of the Internet most people know about, there is much more to the Internet than the web.

There are other organizations like the ITU and the LTE 3GPP that make sure your iPhone works anywhere in the world, by having uniform global standards.

The Internet Society is not going to let China shut down Matt Drudge. They will not even let the US government do it. The Internet community all believe in keeping the Internet open. When Mubarak in Egypt tried to turn off the Internet, he found it was pretty futile. By sending the military to places he knew about to shut it down, it was several days before most of the devices were unplugged, but then the government itself was crippled because it couldn’t keep the Internet partially up. Businesses ground to a halt, unable to communicate with suppliers, transfer money and communicate with their workers. The government quickly fell and the Internet was turned back on.

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