The United States government has loosened its control over how the Internet is run.
The U.S. Commerce Department on September 30 signed an agreement that gives the private, U.S.-based nonprofit Internet Corporation For Assigned Names And Numbers (ICANN) greater independence and opens the corporation to international oversight.
The deal, which replaces a previous agreement that ended the same day, invites representatives of foreign governments to sit on panels that will periodically review ICANN -- meaning the organization will no longer report solely to the United States.
"For the average user this means nothing," says Kevin Anderson, blogs editor at Britain's "Guardian" daily. "In terms of the impact on the average users' daily lives, not much. It's definitely much more of a political issue, where there was a sense that the United States had tried to maintain control over certain aspects of the Internet longer than it should have, seeing that the Internet is very international now."
In past years, the European Union had led international calls for greater Internet independence from U.S. control, saying the World Wide Web belongs to a global constituency.
U.S. lawmakers and companies had also been lobbying for more trademark protections on the Internet.
The European commissioner for information society and media, Viviane Reding, welcomed the new agreement, which she said will make ICANN's decisions "more independent and more accountable."
The deal was also praised by Google chief executive Eric Schmidt. "We endorse this affirmation and applaud the maturing of ICANN's role in the provision of Internet stability," he said.
ICANN manages the Domain Name System (DNS), deciding on what names can be added to the Internet's top-level domains.
The new agreement comes as the regulating body prepares to ease procedures for adding domain name suffixes and expanding the number of generic top-level domains such as .com and .org.
Anderson says ICANN could also soon allow the use of other languages for Internet addresses, which so far can only be entered in Roman characters, in response to calls from many countries.
Under the new deal, however, the panels' recommendations won't be binding on ICANN. The U.S. Commerce Department will also have a guaranteed seat on one of those panels, unlike other state representatives to be picked by leaders from ICANN.