Ceding Control of Core Internet Systems: What’s Really Happening?

On Saturday, the U.S. government plans to cede control of some of the internet's core systems -- namely, the directories that help web browsers and apps know where to find the latest weather, maps and Facebook musings.

The U.S. has been in charge of these systems for more than three decades; plans to transfer control of these functions to a nonprofit oversight organization have been in the works since the late 1990s. Some Republicans in Congress raised late objections over the transfer, which they termed a "giveaway" to the rest of the world. But they failed to block the move in a spending bill to keep the government operating.

Here's a look at the systems in question and what's at stake for internet users.

Wait, the U.S, Government Controls the Internet?

No single government, business, organization or individual controls all the computers and pipelines making up the internet.

But the internet does depend on an addressing system called the domain name system. This includes directories that help computers on the network how to send data such as email and web requests where it needs to go.

Control over these directories bestows some influence over the internet, although it's limited to deciding what gets included in those directories. For instance, can a Google critic register google-sucks.org, or does Google get first dibs? What about creating a domain name suffix just for porn sites? It has nothing to do with what websites publish; this is just about making sure your browser can find those sites.

Since 1998, an organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has overseen the directories, mostly by setting rules and creating mechanisms for settling disputes. But ICANN also has an overseer: the U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. It's a historical arrangement stemming from U.S. funding for the internet's...

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