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Cerf sees government control of Internet failing

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Attempts by governments to create a controlling agency for the Internet are likely to fail, Dr. Vint Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the World Wide Web, said on Wednesday.

Dr. Vint Cerf in an undated photo. Attempts by governments to create a controlling agency for the Internet are likely to fail, Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the World Wide Web, said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Handout

In an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of a United Nations-led forum on Internet governance in Rio de Janeiro, Cerf, 64, said the fact that the Web is almost entirely privately owned is a major obstacle to such control.

The forum discussed issues like the fight against child pornography and Internet security as well as the possible establishment of an intergovernmental body to coordinate such efforts.

“It’s tempting to think that you need a United Nations-like structure to deal with it,” Cerf said.

“I believe it will be very hard to accomplish that objective for one simple reason -- 99 percent of the Internet, the physical Internet, is in private sector hands, operated by the private sector,” he said, defending a different governance structure made up of multiple stakeholders.

Multiple stakeholders is a term used by nongovernmental organizations to describe all people and entities on which a company or its products and services have an impact, including customers, governments and the society.

“Internet is used by a billion users around the world, it’s not strictly a purely governmental thing to control, and that’s why you need this multi-stakeholders structure to make sure all the prospects are respected,” Cerf said.

He advocated the U.S.-based board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages the Internet’s domain-name address system and which Cerf chairs, as “the first big expert in a global multi-stakeholders structure.”

ICANN assigns domains to Internet sites, such as the .com and .org abbreviations used for Web sites. ICANN reports to the U.S. Commerce Department, which has drawn criticism of political interference in the Web’s governance.

As a possible way to control the Internet’s dark side, Cerf proposes international agreements on what is acceptable and what is not in network behavior that would guarantee that someone caught infringing the code would face consequences.

Cerf, who along with Robert Kahn designed the TCP/IP Internet network protocol in the early 1970s, says he never expected the network to reach its current proportions so quickly.

Cerf is also working on an “interplanetary network” with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or


“It sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it? But actually it’s engineering,” he said.

“When we send spacecraft to go in orbit or to land on some surface in space, we need to communicate with those spacecraft. And as times goes on, there will be more and more of those spacecraft in operation at the same time. And the consequence of that is we need richer communications resources,” he said.

Cerf believes in future new applications for the network down on Earth, like Internet-connected garments or kitchen equipment. Cerf says that while in Rio he controls temperature and humidity at his wine cellar at home in the United States using the network.

“I can access this tiny server from anywhere in the world and be sure that the wine is fine,” he said with a smile.

Translated by Andrei Khalip, editing by Gerald E. McCormick