Tech Focus: U.S. No Longer Gatekeeper of Internet Domains

U.S. No Longer Gatekeeper of Internet Domains

On October 1st something important happened to the internet without much notice, media discussion or  political debate.

Here are some important facts:

  • ICANN’s main function is to maintain and distribute internet domains; for example thebronxchronicle.com is really “184.168.16.67” in computer language. (Go ahead and copy and paste 184.168.16.67 into your browser to test it out.)
  • There are two sides of the political debate.  The first side is the Internet Governance Coalition – a group of tech, internet and telecommunications giants like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Comcast, Verizon, Cisco and more – who champion a “bottom-up approach” and a “multi-stakeholder community.”  The second side of the debate is Senator Ted Cruz and the Attorney Generals of Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Oklahoma.  Cruz claims handing over ICANN to the UN “will empower countries like Russia, China and Iran to censor speech on the internet, your speech.”

ted cruzSo what to believe? Is Senator Cruz going off the deep end by espousing crazy conspiracy theories? Why is the Internet Governance Coalition pushing for a handover to the United Nations?

First off, the range of ICANN’s power is pretty limited to only naming conventions.  How much trouble this power could cause is yet to be seen but conventional wisdom suggests not much.  However, there could be a scenario where ICANN tinkers with top level domain endings.  So we could end up seeing .business, .this, .here, .there, and .whatever.  This would force companies into spending money protecting their online presence by registering their sites with a bunch of new domains to avoid copycat sites.  Overall, however, ICANN itself is not all that powerful and certainly could not censor speech alone.

Next, now why does the Internet Governance Coalition (IGC) care about ICANN? Are they motivated by pure light and goodness?  This is where perhaps Ted Cruz isn’t so crazy.  It is safe to say that these international tech, internet and telecommunications conglomerates care about money first and foremost.  The current system of customizing their services and products to the laws of various nations  around the globe is expensive.  It would be easier and cheaper if the internet fell under one global set of laws, and IGC says as much in their mission statement.  Can we really trust these companies to fight for the first amendment?  Even if it meant making their jobs more complicated and adding more cost to their books?  I think the answer to that question is an obvious no.

Final opinion?  The transfer of ICANN to the UN’s ITC is not the sky falling; however, there is a not-so-crazy slippery slope argument to be made that it could lead to globalized universal standards that would incorporate freedom of speech regulations weaker than those we enjoy in the United States.  Not to mention, there is also a pretty valid “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” position as well.

We shall wait and see what happens to the future of the internet.  Hopefully, we won’t find ourselves reminiscing about the good ole days of the internet sometime in the future.

Rob Giuffre is a Network+ and A+ certified computer/network technician and sole owner of RatCat Computers. Call 347-538-6231 for a free quote and to schedule a service appointment for any computer or network issue.  We appreciate, respect and value all of our clients