By now you may have heard that by September 2015 the United States will turn over its oversight of the Internet to an international stakeholders group. The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its plans to transition control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to a “multi-stakeholder” body. The agency said this has been part of the long term plan since 1997.
The purpose of this nonprofit group is to create and assign top-level domain names that end in common three letters like .com, .org and .net. Think of it like the folks behind the telephone directory. ICANN establishes the protocols that create the organizational structure to the internet.
The Internet is still an evolving entity that has linked the people of the world, making the sharing of ideas, commerce and news something everyone can access provided you choose to be connected.
The big question that no one has really answered since this transition was announced a few weeks back is why are we giving up control of ICANN?
It’s been reported that several times in the last decade, a group of countries has urged that control of domain names be transferred to the United Nations. This movement is primarily led by China and Russia.
Now think for a moment if we really want Russia to have a major say in the creation of sites? Russian authorities shut down several websites critical of the government in the days before the country began its recent takeover of Crimea – a clear move to stifle debate and silence the opposition. Would those sites have ever been given permission to get on the Internet in the first place if countries not so supportive of freedom of expression had control over the naming process?
American creativity gave birth to the Internet and has adequately overseen this process since its inception, so why is it in our best interest, or for that matter, the world’s best interest, to give up control over the ability to create a name?
The URL name is essentially your license to function on the Internet. It’s how people find your site. That site, regardless of its purpose, has a certain amount of openness and freedom under the current system.
Can we be assured the same freedom will exist when a multi-stakeholder group has controlling interest? Beyond the announcement, little is known about how this process will work, how the successor will be organized or populated, the extent or nature of its authority, or how it would be insulated from interference from individual governments or organizations. This should be a concern because the U.S. oversight of ICANN has been focused on enhancing the stability and reliability of the Internet while preserving the openness and innovative nature critical to its future growth and development.
The United States has a unique role in the world. Our unwavering support for freedom and transparency must not be diminished or easily given away. We still are the world’s beacon for freedom and liberty. The Internet holds the unique distinction for people of all races and nationalities to seek what we’ve fought hard to establish.
If the Internet functions were harmed, not only would there be economic damage, but a vital forum for freedom of speech and political dissent could be compromised. While the transition of the Internet stewardship from the U.S. may have been inevitable at some point in the future, it is unclear why the U.S. should surrender its role at this time given the recent events in Russia. As a nation we should never concede to being just another country among countries. We are and must continue to be an exceptional nation that repeatedly demonstrates and encourages others to follow in our path of freedom and opportunity for all.
Dan Alexander is associate publisher of New Market Press and publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.