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Does It Actually Matter if U.S. 'Gives Up Control' of the Internet?

The United States has announced that by 2015, it will end its control over the administration of that omnipresent series of tubes we know as the Internet.

What that fundamentally means is that the Commerce Department will end its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), turning it over to a global community of stakeholders.

What exactly does it mean and what are people saying?

The Washington Post rounded up some immediate responses to the announcement. Clearly some figures are concerned that reducing America’s influence over the Internet will give countries like Russia and China potentially more power to control and censor the virtual world:

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tweeted: “What is the global internet community that Obama wants to turn the internet over to? This risks foreign dictatorships defining the internet.”

People involved in web commerce are also concerned that because ICANN’s revenue (the non-profit earned $68 million last year) is tied to selling domain names, the lack of oversight tied to one particular country could lead to irresponsible decisions:

Business groups and some others have long complained that ICANN’s decision-making was dominated by the interests of the industry that sells domain names and whose fees provide the vast majority of ICANN’s revenue. The U.S. government contract was a modest check against such abuses, critics said.

“It’s inconceivable that ICANN can be accountable to the whole world. That’s the equivalent of being accountable to no one,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, a trade group representing major Internet commerce businesses.

Tech site ExtremeTech, though, thinks the panic is a bit overblown and describes the move as a P.R. stunt, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations:

[T]he scope of the power the US government currently wields has been exaggerated in some quarters by pundits who see this as tantamount to handing the internet to Russia and China. What the US has done is give ICANN the authority to create a multi-stakeholder venture to address future questions of governance. Under the current system, ICANN works under the auspices of the Department of Commerce’s NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration). The government doesn’t normally play a strong role in internet governance, though it has taken action from time to time.

Once the current agreement expires in 2015, ICANN will be allowed to create this new multi-stakeholder coalition out of a combination of governments and corporations. The US has stated that the new organization will not be composed solely of governments, but that they should be treated as equal players to the eventual organization. There is some fair question over whether or not ICANN has the expertise to fulfill its mandate outside of any kind of oversight — in the past, its reliance on top-level domains as a source of income have led to charges that it faces a fundamental conflict of interest. Presumably the organization may be able to revisit its own funding model as well.

ExtremeTech provides this useful chart showing how the Internet actually runs (click for bigger image):

ChartExtremeTech

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Free Society||

    But but but without the government, who will use the internet to spy on us?

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Why yes, Scott. As you can see this is showing up as a 24/7 post it's extremely important that we maintain control of our inter-tubez

  • Ron||

    Politicians are giving up control of the internet in order to get control over what is said. How will it do that? Easy most other countries do not have free speech rights. If we let them control the internet then they can control the content and our crooked politicians will claim there is nothing we can do about it since it's out of our control. Since most European and many other countries do not tolerate conservative views it makes sense for the liberals in America to give control to fellow liberals outside of the U.S. to hopefully control American conservative view points or any different oppinion on what they don't want discussed at all.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    You are using the term 'liberal' too loosely. And, your view is driven heavily by ideology. Let's be clear here, conservatives the world over are absolutely engaged with censorship tactics on par with progressives/communists/socialists.

    For example: The only reason American has the liquid freedoms of expression we have now is largely due to classical liberals (Barney Rosset is one example, a man who is still not fully appreciated for his role in fighting censorship) suing the system for 30-40 years and winning many court battles for liberty while blowing millions in the process. Very few conservatives, if any, actually care enough about freedom to embrace it in its entirety. I rate most of them no more improved than the political counterpart they detest, namely, the commies.

  • Ron||

    so you found one person on the left big deal it seams to me that it is conservative organizations that are actively fighting to allow free speech on campuses and for religious freedom elsewhere. At the same time it is liberals who continually try to silence any other opinion.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Progressives and conservatives both have censorship agendas. I can see you have no idea what a classical liberal is so I see no point in pursuing this further. You also haven't studied censorship in this country over the last 60 years either. Christ...

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    Last I checked it was mostly conservatives who want to ban porn and to a lesser extent gambling on the internet.

    At worst different countries would have their own intranets. China's internet regulations have no effect on us regardless of what Lou Dobbs or Alex Jones or some other hawkish protectionist ass hat says.

  • OneOut||

    "your view is driven heavily by ideology. "

    HaHaHaHa!

    pot.kettle.black

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Post something with some actual content, dummy.

  • JohnD||

    Silly me. I thought it had something to do with the 1st amendment.

  • DRM||

    It's basically irrelevant. "Rough consensus and running code" is the whole of the governing order of the Internet. As a technical matter, if the major stakeholders decided to replace ICANN with someone else, it might take as long as hours to implement the switchover, and they can do that whether or not the US chooses to claim to oversee ICANN.

  • DenverJay||

    ICANN is nothing more than the organization that decides who gets to use what domain name. For instance, if I own www.thissiteDOTcom, you can not also own www.thissiteDOTcom. Since allowing more than one entity to hae the same URL would make the internet unusable, somebody has to do this. I hardly see how this is a matter of freedom or anything other than basic structuring of addresses.

  • DenverJay||

    sigh, my fingers are fat tonight. By using DOT, I was hoping to make the examples NOT links. Also, "hae" should be "have", after unusable the comma should be a semi-colon, etc.
    After all this time, STILL NO EDIT FUNCTION TO THE COMMENTS SECTION!!!

  • JeremyR||

    Turkey's government is trying to shut down Twitter (in Turkey).

    Most cultures don't value freedom of speech. It's under attack in much of the West, but at least we pay lip service to it.

    And giving power to corporations isn't really any better. Whenever they and the government get together, it's always at the expense of consumers.

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    Turkey's government is trying to shut down Twitter (in Turkey)

    That would zero effect on anyone outside of Turkey, unless you count the emotions of neocon sheep.

  • JohnD||

    Stupid comment Centerist.
    That which diminishes the least of us, diminishes the rest of us. Or something like that.

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    *would have zero effect

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    The worst case scenario is that countries will have their own isolated intranets, and in that case we still have, albeit more expensive, satellite internet. China's net regulations don't effect us regardless of what the Lou Dobbs and Peter Kings of the world say.

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    *affect

  • bassjoe||

    No, it doesn't.

    I'm really getting tired of Gingrich's tweets. And of the man himself.

  • JohnD||

    You're pretty tiresome yourself.

  • julieejulia120||

    my co-worker's step-mother makes $63 every hour on the computer . She has been laid off for 6 months but last month her pay was $18624 just working on the computer for a few hours. i was reading this.......
    http://www.Works23.us

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