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The group that holds the internet together

Could other countries create alternatives to the US-controlled domain name system, causing chaos?

But other world powers want to change that status quo when the second ICANN agreement comes up in 2011, Kleinwachter said. If the U.S. doesn't take this symbolic step now, he said, other countries could develop their own alternatives, “which could lead to a Balkanization of the Internet.”

To help assuage the concerns of the world's nations, ICANN has created a government advisory committee that can bring problems to the 15 voting board members who set domain name policies.

Stefano Trumpy, an Italian computer scientist who represents his country on this government advisory committee, said ICANN is ready to continue its role of settling name disputes without U.S. government supervision. He does not think the U.N. or some other international body should take over the U.S. role. “The problem of ICANN is not to substitute the oversight of one government with an oversight exercised by a multitude of government but rather to get rid of a single government,” Trumpy said.

Beckstrom said ICANN's board of directors, a majority of whom come from outside the United States, is still deciding how to approach the oversight issue come September, mindful of the more substantive negotiations pending in 2011.

“Other nations of the world would like to see ICANN be a truly global organization and either reduce or eliminate its relationship with the U.S. government over time,” he said diplomatically, adding that the nonprofit group will look for a way to “respect its historical commitments while also respecting the interests and aspirations of other governments vis-a-vis the Internet.”