Those responsible for helping the U.S. government hand over control of the Internet’s domain name system assured the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday that the Internet will continue to be free and open once the transition process is completed.
The committee held a hearing examining if it’s still in the country’s best interest to relinquish control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, which is responsible for coordinating the Internet’s domain name system, IP addressing and other Internet protocols. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration had been planning to hand off management responsibilities to a coalition of Internet technical groups from around the world after its contract with ICANN expires Sept. 30.
Committee members expressed concern that relinquishing ICANN oversight opens the door for lax accountability standards and gives authoritarian regimes the chance to censor the Internet. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the committee chairman, worried that a rushed transition would allow ICANN to be manipulated into becoming a toothless, corrupt international oversight coalition.
“I worry that, in the absence of the contract with the U.S government, ICANN could become an organization like FIFA – the international soccer organization that is flush with cash, unresponsive to those it supposedly serves and accountable to no one,” Thune said.
NTIA Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence Strickling and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé assured the committee that the multistakeholder model will not change how people use the Internet around the world.
“Our economic and political interest is in a developing and growing Internet, especially in a developing world,” Strickling said. “No country controls the Internet today, and no country will control the Internet after the transition.”
The multistakeholder model “must maintain the values of the system,” Chehadé said. “If the system is jeopardized, its stability is punctured; we all stand to lose, America and the world. I want to give you first an unequivocal assurance that whatever we do here must and will retain the values with which we started this endeavor.”
The values that will go into the multistakeholder model have been on the minds of committee members for months. Last July, Thune and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent a letter to ICANN board chairman Stephen Crocker asking that any multistakeholder proposals should meet five points, including limiting government involvement in ICANN’s regulatory mechanisms and adding oversight measures before the U.S. gives up its current role.
David Gross, the former State Department coordinator for international communications and information policy, said ICANN and NTIA are well aware of what needs to be done before a transition plan is put in place.
“We are watching this process like a hawk to ensure that any proposal meets the five-part test set forth as the standard, and the administration will be among the first to speak up if we think it doesn’t meet that test,” he said.
A number of senators pressed witnesses on the control countries with censored Internet, such as China or Iran, could exert if there isn’t stronger U.S. oversight. Chehadé said the countries involved in the multistakeholder process want to keep the Internet open as much as the U.S. does.
“Many governments are looking for a model that they can sell to their own people and say, ‘This is good,’ and we have equal participation in it,” Chehadé said. “I’m not going to be able to assure that those on the edges of this debate are going to walk away and love this platform. I assure you that I’ve met governments that can tell their people, ‘This is a good solution.'”
Chehadé also highlighted that, while this transition has been in the works since the Clinton administration, the upcoming deadline is a perfect time to act.
“Nothing will happen in the dark here,” he said. “This is good for America, this is good for the Internet, this is good for the world.”