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Internet Name Governance is Going Global – What could go wrong?

ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is just about ready to go global – thanks to the Obama administration. But, what benefit is that to Americans?

What is ICANN?

ICANN is responsible for registering the recognizable website names everyone knows so that domain name servers can translate those names into the confusing mix of numbers that actually help browsers and computers find where they are going (ie. currently resides at

The arguments for the globalization and against it are numerous. Some argue that, today, ICANN revokes names quickly when copyright infringement is claimed. Others simply claim that no government should have single hold over the naming system. More complain that ICANN should not be an unregulated private entity.

The truth is that ICANN is semi-private today. It operates under a contract from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The contract allows for at least some level of oversight from a free and courteous government – once ICANN is released from that contract on September 30th, that oversight is gone.

The bigger question Americans should ask is if ICANN is released to be (maybe)  overseen by some conglomeration of world governments… what good is that to us? America funded the development of the internet (see ARPANET.) America fostered the good governance that allowed the freedom and explosive growth of the internet. Now, the very fundamental process for getting and maintaining an internet name is being given away to … who knows?

If the concern was the bureaucracy that congressional oversight brought to ICANN, well, having 150 nations oversee those same functions won’t be better. The cure for bureaucracy is not more of it…

Why do Americans Care About ICANN?

The average American may never interact directly or indirectly with ICANN. If you never want to have your own website with a domain name, you will not need ICANN services.

The concern is over cost, regulatory authority, foreign intervention and theft (or at least graft.)

If China is complaining about how quickly domain names are taken away due to copyright today, imagine how hard it will be to protect intellectual property once they have their hands in the naming pie?

What if ICANN decided to tax .com addresses an additional $1 tax vs. the .uk, .ca, .au… and so on? The .com address is used largely by U.S. addresses. That would mean that American companies and individuals would pay more for their web names than any other country – and be paying a tax levied by a non-U.S. entity. Then again.. ICANN already considered this very thing some time ago, but found it unworkable within the United States.

As the naming governance goes global, censorship becomes a concern:

“If you hand over domain-name registration to someone who doesn’t want certain classes of domains registered, then you’re setting up a censorship structure,” said Bill Reinsch,president of the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents businesses.

A Little History

In 1997, the Clinton administration published a paper proposing the privatization of all aspects of internet management. The fundamental reason for the suggestion was that non-governmental self-regulation was important.

That reasoning was sufficient to spur the Department of Commerce into action and was so freedom-from-government sounding as to keep public alarm to a whisper.

In January of 1998, the Department of Commerce published it’s initial rule for public comment. This framework was based on the idea of one or more private entities taking over the basic functions of the internet and the DOC having regulatory authority over them all.

In June of 1998, the DOC pulled back it’s first rule and issued the one responsible for creating today’s ICANN that would:

1) preserve the stability with the Internet; 2) provide for competition in the registration of names; 3) provide for private sector bottom-up coordination; and 4) election and representation of the various constituencies.

Autumn of 1998 saw the birth of a 510(c)(3) non-profit named ICANN.

Recent Events

In October of 2013, the leaders of organizations responsible for coordination of the Internet technical infrastructure globally met in Montevideo, Uruguay. They created the Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation:

  • They reinforced the importance of globally coherent Internet operations, and warned against Internet fragmentation at a national level. They expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance.
  • They identified the need for ongoing effort to address Internet Governance challenges, and agreed to catalyze community-wide efforts towards the evolution of global multistakeholder Internet cooperation.
  • They called for accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.
  • They also called for the transition to IPv6 to remain a top priority globally. In particular Internet content providers must serve content with both IPv4 and IPv6 services, in order to be fully reachable on the global Internet.

President and CEO of ICANN, Fadi Chehadé, praised the statement and piled on praise for the globalization of internet naming:

The global community was definitely energized by that statement to start the march toward what I would call a working ecosystem of Internet governance that is rooted in two principles: first, that we want Internet governance in a distribute, polycentric way, as opposed to a centralized, top-down way; and, secondly, we’re moving Internet governance decidedly into a moment where all stakeholders are engaged.

Chehade’s remarks are positive and hard to rebuke, but … they are oddly similar to the ignored directives from 1998. Remember these from the top section:

1) preserve the stability with the Internet; 2) provide for competition in the registration of names; 3) provide for private sector bottom-up coordination; and 4) election and representation of the various constituencies.

First, competition in the registration of names has long been forgotten by ICANN. They strong-armed organizations like the NSI (an early naming provider) into oppressive contracts that would allow ICANN to destroy NSI on a whim.

Secondly, ICANN’s record on “private, bottom-up coordination looks more oppressive than cooperative:

What did ICANN do in response to the public comment it received and the global consensus against the stranglehold charter model proposed by CP80?  ICANN adopted the stranglehold charter model for noncommercial users, defying the unanimous public support expressed for the charter drafted by noncommercial users that was created through a consensus process.  The ICANN drafted charter forces noncommercial users into arbitrary and competing constituencies — and it does not permit them to vote as an entire stakeholder group, the one thing noncommercial users were clear in the comment period about needing for noncommercial users to have any chance of influencing policy at ICANN.

Lastly, fair election and represenatation has been questionable at best:

Specifically, beginning with the Seoul ICANN Meeting in October 2009, noncommercial users and commercial users are each supposed to have elected 6 representatives to the GNSO Council.  However, as a result of back channel lobbying by the commercial constituencies who lost the advantage in numbers of councilors, the 3 new GNSO Council seats that should have gone up for election to noncommercial users, will instead become board appointments in the initial term.  This shift raises concerns that the noncommercial GNSO Council appointments will neither be representative of nor accountable to noncommercial users (the purpose of an election).  Instead, the noncommercial council appointments become the subject of intense lobbying by commercial actors clawing to get those council seats back.

These last arguments might point out why ICANN should be globalized, but hearing that the new directives are just like the last… why does this move make that better?

What’s Next for Internet Names?

It’s hard to predict where internet governance will end up. In the hands of some non-UN, chimera of selfish nations, the internet could just get tied up while they argue over the scraps from America’s table.

Justifiable concerns exist over who decides when a domain is harmful and should be taken away from the current owner. If China doesn’t like a U.K. based “China-truth” blog, can it lobby to have their domain name stripped?

If ICANN get’s subsumed, taken over or otherwise nefariously-steered, Americans will likely create a new, U.S. owned naming organization and let the rest of the world turn ICANN into a schizophrenic mess.

Simply creating a new naming organization comes with its own issues. What if the internationally-controlled ICANN won’t recognize the new American naming group? Will non-American domain name servers recognize U.S. domain names? That could cut America off from the world – or more correctly, cut the world off from America.

Without the shining light on the hill visible to the internet’s billions – freedom may be the cost. Than again, maybe that’s the intent of this whole three-decade maneuver – all started with President Bill Clinton in 1997.

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Rich Mitchell

Rich Mitchell is the editor-in-chief of Conservative Daily News and the president of Bald Eagle Media, LLC. His posts may contain opinions that are his own and are not necessarily shared by Bald Eagle Media, CDN, staff or .. much of anyone else. Find him on twitter, facebook and

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