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“We should not have to make a compromise between China’s idea of Internet freedom and our idea of Internet freedom,” says Paula Bruening, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based think tank. “That is why nobody in this country would agree to an international treaty.”

The lack of international control, though, has raised the hackles of governments around the world. Recognizing the rigidity of the battle lines, Hans Klein, a political scientist at Georgia Tech, proposes a compromise solution – one that essentially provides a regulatory structure that splits the difference.

“I recognize the validity of other countries’ concerns,” Klein says. “The power of ICANN is real, and the willingness to use that power has now been shown.”

Control of the domains for particular countries – such as Germany’s “.de” – rightfully belongs with those countries, he says. Klein says ICANN’s contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce could be internationalized. “That would be a weaker form of law than a treaty, where other countries might have a say,” he says, and might be palatable.

Meanwhile expansion of Internet involves overcoming huge hurdles that transcend the ICANN debate. Today one billion people use the Internet – but billions more are on the other side of the divide. Creating Internet access for everyone, and bringing benefits such as access to health information and the ability to conduct a business, requires basic investment in affordable infrastructure and cheap computers. And such an initiative requires a legal environment that allows foreign investment.

And the access problem doesn’t simply require the creation of an infrastructure; governments must to take steps to insure that once the Internet pipelines are built, they are actually usable.

That means, among other things, controlling spam. Junk e-mail is annoying enough for people in developed countries. But in places where information pipes are more like pipettes, as a practical matter, spam can choke off Internet access. “The internet governance question is important and I don’t want to minimize it,” says Bruening of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

“Still, the narrow question over who maintains back-end, technical control of the Internet’s addressing system represents only a tiny fraction of the ‘governance’ debate,” Bruening says. “And it remains the case that the solutions to many of the hot-button topics, like spam, spyware and cyber-crime, must be primarily addressed by individual governments at the national level.”

For its part, ICANN says that it’s already working hard to engage the international community and ensure technical stability and security for all, according to Theresa Swinehart, general manager of Global Partnerships for ICANN.

“It is becoming clear that the majority of governments recognize that the current internationally organized system of technical coordination has proven effective and is working well,” Swinehart says. “There is also a growing understanding of the need to avoid politicizing the Internet’s technical coordination. Continuing to keep politics out of the day-to-day operations of the Internet will not only continue to ensure user and business certainty, but will also maintain a stable and secure Internet for the world’s users as they come online.”

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