Recently, there has been a great deal of informational buzz around the Internet over some decisions being made about its governance. Initially, it seemed as though there would be a total relinquishment by the United States. As the article below clarifies, this is far from the case. It is of interest to see which countries would like to have absolute control of the Internet but this is highly unlikely. Enjoy the information and make sure to support keeping the Net as neutral as possible.
No, the U.S. Isn’t ‘Giving Up Control’ of the Internet
By KATHERINE MAHER
March 19, 2014
On a sleepy Friday afternoon last week, the U.S. Department of Commerce dropped what seemed, to many, like a bombshell: It intends to transition its coordinating role over the Internet’s domain name system—those web addresses you type into your browser—to the global Internet community.
The announcement was met with thunderous disapproval from top Republicans, who swiftly accused the White House of “giving up control” of the Internet. This widely circulated Newt Gingrich tweet being just one example:
Hold on a minute.
Putting aside the fact that no one actually “controls” the Internet—it is regulated and governed by a patchwork of jurisdictions, technical advisory groups and voluntary bodies—this announcement definitely doesn’t reflect a global takeover. U.N. black helicopters aren’t coming for your servers.
So what just happened? A smart, strategic move by Commerce to formalize, on its own terms, a process of increased globalization that has been going on for some time.
It’s actually the oppositeof what the critics claim: The Obama administration is trying to head off rising global pressure to give other countries, including China and Russia, more of a say in how the Internet is governed, not bow to it.
First, some background: Historically, the United States has been responsible for coordinating the Internet’s names and numbering system: the tools that do things like match human-readable domains, like “Politico.com,” with the number-based IP address that computers use to bring order to the different devices and destinations on the Internet.
But the Department of Commerce doesn’t actually handle this responsibility directly. The United States has subcontracted this function out for years: first from the Defense Department to the University of Southern California, and since 1998 from the Department of Commerce to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, better known as ICANN.
ICANN, which was created primarily for the purpose of contracting to Commerce, is already a global body. Its headquarters are in California, but it has offices around the world and a governance model that includes representatives from 111 countries, international organizations and commercial and non-commercial stakeholders (such as academics and entrepreneurs). The announcement won’t fundamentally shift this oversight — in fact, Commerce has asked ICANN to lead the process of developing a proposal for the transition.
More importantly, however, is there is no way Commerce will allow for a transition that doesn’t serve the public’s interest in a free and open Internet. The department controls the conditions, the timing and the ultimate approval of any new arrangement.
In its announcement, the division of Commerce responsible for managing this contract, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), laid out a set of prerequisites that any successful transition will have to meet. They include ensuring broad community support for the proposal, creating avenues for input from diverse stakeholders, enhancing technical resilience and security, maintaining the openness of the Internet — and consistency with the intent of Congress.Any plan that doesn’t meet these guidelines won’t make the cut.
In its announcement, the NTIA made it clear that it would abide by Congress’s will. Although its critics have short memories, Congress responded to the last scare over global Internet control with concurrent resolutions in late 2012 in which both houses affirmed their commitment to “preserve and advance the multistakeholder governance model under which the Internet has thrived,” rejecting stewardship by another government or intergovernmental body.
In fact, the proposed Commerce plan might actually help prevent an outcome that could be much worse for the free and open Internet: the transition of global internet governance functions to a multilateral body such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
As the Internet has become more of a global resource and proven its importance as a tool for economic development, political organizing and free speech, governments around the world have taken note. In response, some players have proposed moving basic functions of governance into places where they would have more influence, including the United Nations.
Their motivations vary widely. Some are entirely reasonable: Countries with low Internet penetration, poor infrastructure and large populations may want the U.N.’s help in improving connectivity and lowering prices. But we know from experience that other countries have less noble intentions.
The ITU is the U.N.’s oldest agency, with oversight for interoperability and standardization of issues like telephony and telegraphs. As of now its purview doesn’t explicitly include the Internet, but that may change: This October, the ITU will hold a conference in Busan, Korea, and adding responsibility for the Internet to the ITU’s mandate will be on the table.
If this happens, countries like China and Russia will have the same influence as countries like Germany and the United States: one country, one vote. And other important stakeholders, whether in the private sector, academia or civil society, won’t have any vote at all.
We have hints of how this might play out: At a global ITU treaty conference in 2012, Russia and China, along with Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Algeria, pushed for a proposal that would have given them total control of the Internet within their borders as a matter of international policy. This would have allowed them to levy heavy tariffs, shut down free speech or pull the plug on the Internet altogether.
Moving Internet governance under the ITU’s umbrella is far from a given. But following last year’s disclosures about mass surveillance by U.S. and British intelligence agencies, it’s a real possibility. The United States and its allies have lost much of the political capital they have relied on over the years to preserve the current system with U.S. oversight — and political winds are changing.
In late April, the world’s Internet community will descend on São Paulo, Brazil, for a conference on the future of Internet governance. The NetMundial meeting, convened by the Brazilian government, is in part a response to global anger at the United States for its role in digital spying and its outcomes will be a critical signal of what’s to come for government influence on the open net.