By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The European Commission on Wednesday urged the United States to speed up its promised efforts to dilute U.S. influence over the governance of the Internet, saying it was time for America's monopoly to come to an end.
The U.S. government announced in March that it will give up its most direct means of control over the Internet's infrastructure, but has insisted that the job be taken on by a group that includes the private sector and other interested parties, not just multiple governments.
"The answer is yes, it should be quicker. There's no doubt about that," Neelie Kroes, the European Union commissioner in charge of telecoms policy, told Reuters at United Nations headquarters when asked if she thought the U.S. moves were too slow.
"It's extremely important that we have an Internet governance that is up-to-date and is linked with the situation of a global medium," she said in an interview. "If it is a global medium, then it should be transparent, it should be predictable, it should not be in the hands of a monopoly."
The EU has demanded that the United States reduce its influence over the institutions controlling the mechanics of the Internet, such as assigning web page addresses that allow computers to locate one another on the network.
ICANN, a California-based organization operating under a contract with the U.S. government, currently oversees the introduction of new internet addresses. In the coming years, hundreds of new so-called top-level domain addresses, such as .london or .sex, will be added, offering newcomers more choice of location online as web usage grows.
Kroes dismissed U.S. concerns about allowing countries like China and Russia, which have a reputation for restricting the Internet, to get involved in Internet governance.
"There is a saying that the kettle is saying that the other one is black," she said in an oblique reference to U.S. cyber espionage programs.
Revelations of vast U.S. spying programs leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have complicated EU-U.S. ties at a delicate moment in transatlantic relations, as Brussels and Washington are negotiating a free-trade pact that would encompass almost half the world's economy.
Kroes said she supported calls by Germany for limits on electronic surveillance, though she said it would be naive to assume that governments would halt cyber espionage given their essential role in providing security for their citizens.
"Spying the second oldest profession on earth, and sometimes it's combined with the first oldest profession," she said. "Governments promise their people that they will do their utmost to guarantee safety and so on. Having said that, there are limits on that, and certainly limits on implementing that type of (espionage) activities."
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau, editing by G Crosse)