"No one is in charge" of the Internet, Cerf reminded the audience. And this lack of control seems to perplex government officials, he said. He recounted how, in 2003, he explained to government diplomats at the Internet Governance Forum how the Internet was managed. "They absolutely refused to believe it was possible to have a distributed system of this scale and magnitude that wasn't centrally controlled," he said.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, ICANN does manage the names and addresses for the Internet, though it does not have any control over the Internet itself, Cerf said. "While there are probably some legislators in the U.S. who would like to believe [the U.S. controls the Internet], in fact it is a highly distributed, very collaborative environment," Cerf said.
Cerf, along with Robert Kahn, developed the TCP/IP stack that provided a way for different networks to communicate with one another, which in turned created the Internet. Cerf now works at Google as its chief Internet evangelist. He has also served as the chairman of ICANN.
Some of the push for new ITU guidelines comes from authoritarian governments that are members of the WCIT and wish to clamp down on the Internet, Cerf said. "If you are an authoritarian government, then the Internet is a threat. The Internet is the most democratizing engine ever invented," Cerf said. "Never in the history of the ITR has content been an issue. Can you imagine having international regulations about what you are allowed to say on the telephone?"
The WCIT work could also be seen as an attempt by the ITU to extend its reach to the Internet, especially as ITU's own influence appears to be waning, Cerf suggested. He noted that ITU was originally set up in the 19th century to establish guidelines for the telegraph, though it later was modified to handle telephony and then telecommunications systems.