Who Rules the Internet? ICANN’s Potential Transition from US Control & Accompanying Concerns

How is the Internet run? Now, more than ever, consumers are realizing they don’t know and regulators are realizing they need to know. On March 14, 2014, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced it would not be renewing its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Los Angeles-based nonprofit it partners with to maintain key aspects of the Internet, including domain registrations and investigations into illegal activity. The announcement came with hopes expressed by NTIA for ICANN to become a global multi-stakeholder initiative. However, the transition, originally sought to be completed by September 2015, has spurred many questions ranging from “why is the US handing the Internet over to authoritarian governments?” to simply “why are we fixing what isn’t broken?”

ICANN is in charge of maintaining Internet registrars, such as .com domains. In addition to working with online registrars, the nonprofit also has a hand in ensuring the domains used are legitimate and legal. For example, if the group encountered multiple reports of a certain domain hosting an illegal online pharmacy, it could initiate an investigation into the website. Upon partnering with ICANN in 1998, the NTIA claims it planned to eventually expand the nonprofit into a global enterprise as the Internet itself grew. While a global approach to a global Internet seems appropriate, many are concerned by the potential of one authority among the multiple stakeholders gaining more power than others, as well as a diminished ability of ICANN to guard against illicit Internet use.

Another concern surrounding the transition of ICANN is the potential uncertainty regarding the success of the movement. While many agree there is need for growth, others ask why there is need to make such a transition now when the Internet seems to function with little friction. A new procedure has potential to jolt the “network of networks” and create new problems.

On June 6, 2014, ICANN published the Process to Develop the Proposal and Next Steps which outlined the direction of the transition as ICANN begins to move towards multi-stakeholder control.  During this time the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG), representing 13 communities of both direct and indirect stakeholders, will deliver proposals to NTIA that adequately address the needs outlined by the group’s announcement on March 14. As mentioned by Jamie Hedlund of ICANN at the 2014 Global IP Summit in Washington, DC,

“The deadline for ICANN is September 30, 2015, but more important is to get it right, rather than done.”

The NTIA website has posted a page addressing concerns and Internet rumors regarding the transition. Below are some of the key topics addressed:

  • The US government has clearly stated it will not accept a proposal that replaces its role with a single entity (such as another government or a single intergovernmental organization). The administration requires proposals to be from multi-stakeholder institutions that are committed to preserving the Internet’s potential for economic growth, innovation, and free expression. Furthermore, the transition will only be completed once the US government accepts a proposal that it feels will adequately replace its stewardship role in the global Internet community.
  •  The UN International Telecommunications Union will not be taking over NTIA’s stewardship role, despite rumors it will replace the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) – a department of ICANN responsible for the global coordination of the DNS Root, IP addressing, and other Internet protocol resources -, , . Furthermore, it will not become easier for authoritarian nations to suppress free expression.
  • The role of the US will remain unchanged until the global community deciphers a plan that fulfills all requirements put forth by the initial announcement from the NTIA. The average Internet user is unlikely to notice a change during the transition.

 

Read more here- “Myths and Facts on NTIA Announcement on Intent to Transition Key Internet Domain Name Functions,” (National Telecommunications and Information Administration)

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Olivia is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied Economics and History, minoring in Gender and Women's Studies. She also has experience working with federal legislatures on health care policy, women's issues, and Internet safety.

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