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Who governs the Internet, is there a central government?

Last Edit: 10/01/12

While there is no central body which has ultimate control of the Internet, the backbone infrastructure is administrated. Two key aspects of the Internet are;

  1. DNS - Domain Name System
  2. IP - Internet Protocol addresses

Both of these technologies are essential elements in connecting computers and assigning space on the Internet. Due to the Internet and technologies inherent within it, largely having been developed and funded in the United States, the government of the United States has maintained control of the Domain Name System.

The Department of Commerce within the United States government still maintains - update, the U.S. Department of Commerce freed ICANN from it's oversight in 2016 - ultimate control of the root system of DNS. However, the US government has handed day-to-day administration of DNS and other Internet infrastructure principles to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

While the ICANN administrates DNS and IP nameservers, as of 2012, that has not always been the case. The Internet and DNS evolved from the ARPANET, which was a computer network developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency within the US Department of Defense. The National Science Foundation (US) (NSF) also developed a key backbone network in the 1980s called NSFNET; when combined with ARPANET, the network became what is generally recognised as the Internet. ARPANET was eventually terminated in the early 1990s.

The Internet has evolved from numerous US government departments and educational foundations, most of which have held some form of governance over the DNS and IP address system. From 1998-2012 (present day), governance of DNS has been handed to the ICANN; although a number of countries, most notable China, have indicated they would like to see an internationally controlled organisation take over the role of the ICANN.