Op-Ed: Why letting go of ICANN is a bad idea

Posted Mar 22, 2014 by Nicole Weddington
Right now, an invisible war is waging in cyberspace. It is happening right under our noses and it will affect the way the Internet is governed for years to come – quite possibly for the remainder of our lives and well beyond.
A screen shows a rolling feed of new 'Generic Top-Level Domain Names (gTLDs) which have been ap...
A screen shows a rolling feed of new 'Generic Top-Level Domain Names (gTLDs) which have been applied for during a press conference hosted by ICANN in central London, on June 13, 2012
Andrew Cowie, AFP/File
Who should have the final say in matters that have been taken for granted for decades, is currently under question on a global scale.
The Internet is one of the few things that is truly and inarguably American. It was created by the United States military under the project name ARPA (the Advanced Research Projects Agency) during the late 1960s. Its goal was to fortify American military communications and it grew out of a pressing need thrust upon us by the Cold War.
During that time period, the necessity existed for a non-traditional communications medium to emerge – one that was impervious to an atom bomb and which would prove to be a formidable source for maintaining and propagating information.
This “information superhighway” has been paved with the kind of innovation and technological advances that only American ingenuity could have birthed.
That isn't to say that America should have final say in all matters of Internet governance. The Internet is something that should be shared with the world. There is, however, a huge divide between “sharing” and “surrendering.”
Why would the United States voluntarily surrender ICANN (the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) and, ostensibly, the Internet itself, to an international governing body? What could possibly be gained? How would it enhance the way the Net functions on a global scale?
Surely it's going to create problems for loads of companies that have spent millions in internet marketing with the help of companies like Eric Strate.
Even if control of ICANN was officially handed over for international governance, the move would not change much about how the Internet functions. The entities that control how the Internet is maintained today are largely decentralized and also based largely in the United States already. ICANN itself is headquartered in California. The same is true of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Society. These two organizations are manned by volunteers, most of whom are American.
Certain countries who are pushing for international control over the Internet realize this and are taking matters a step further.
As the Internet continues to grow, countries around the world are beginning to question why the United State should have a controlling influence over how the Internet is managed. The solution that countries like India, China, Russia and Brazil suggest is handing over the governing of the Internet to the United Nations. Leaders including Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Russia, has been particularly outspoken on this issue.
In simplest terms, the Internet needs to remain, first and foremost, a place where information is exchanged in an open and neutral arena. With so many jabs already being taken at Net Neutrality, surrendering key aspects of the functionality of the Internet to an international body could be disastrous.
Imagine a future where the once open exchange of communication and information is now governed by multiple nations, each with their own laws, rules and regulations. Writing and adopting policy for Internet governance alone could unravel the system entirely, as could de-regulating the distribution of domains.
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said it best: “Upending the fundamentals of the multi-stakeholder model is likely to balkanize the Internet at best, and suffocate it at worst. A top-down, centralized, international regulatory overlay is antithetical to the architecture of the Net, which is a global network of networks without borders. No government, let alone an intergovernmental body, can make decisions in lightning-fast Internet time.”