Countries clash over who should run the Internet

A United Nations group is calling for greater globalization of the Internet, but there is disagreement over who should be in charge. Where countries like Brazil and the U.S. envision public-private partnerships to that end, China's representatives have expressed a strong sense that governance should fall squarely within the purview of nation-states.

"Internet is the common home of humanity," said Tian Lin, the head of China's delegation, at the annual Internet Governance Forum held in Joao Pessoa, Brazil from Nov. 10-13. "Only with a contribution of all can we actually benefit the best. The government has the role of leadership. The government combines the problems and defines the policies towards its resolutions."

The primary functions of the Internet fall under the authority of the international, multi-stakeholder Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, based in Los Angeles. The Obama administration has been pushing to transfer the last vestiges of U.S. control to that body by next year, but China and Russia have never been comfortable with the multi-stakeholder arrangement.

Fu Cong, China's deputy ambassador on nuclear disarmament, similarly voiced China's objection in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Oct. 30. "From the developmental perspective, the Internet is owned and developed by all and should be shared and governed by all," he said, according to a transcript provided by the Chinese mission to the U.N.

Russia has been a partner in that refrain, saying in written comments that the U.N. should "strengthen significantly the role of governments" in order to "ensure security" around the globe.