[ICANN] Should Small Biz Be Nervous About Internet Freedom?

Recently, the U.S. government let go of global Internet control.

As a result, many experts are speculating about the Internet’s future. Some are optimistic while others raise concerns about potentially serious problems.

This news should make every online business owner ask: Will a decentralized global Internet take off and soar like a released dove? Or will it hit the ground and never be the same?

Nobody knows for sure how this will play out.

If you’re a small business owner living in the U.S. who depends on the Internet as a business tool (who doesn’t nowadays?), this news may sound a bit scary because of the unknowns…

  • Who WILL own the Internet?
  • What is their agenda?
  • Will Internet protocol remain the same?

Meanwhile, some business owners not living in the U.S. might think this is good news.

Before reaching conclusions, let’s review the specifics of this news. Then I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

What Internet Powers Did the U.S. Give Up?

Here’s how the Internet will change…

Much of the control over technical aspects to the Internet will be shifting from the original United States government oversight model (that’s been in place since the Internet began) to a much broader spectrum of global collaboration. (“Collaboration” being the key word here.)

Domain registration and IP addresses are one particular area that could be affected down the road.

Up to this point of Internet history, a nonprofit organization called ICANN (Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers) has been managing the Internet’s address system since 1998.

ICANN gets funding and is supervised exclusively through the U.S. government.

ICANN didn’t invent Internet IPs and the DNS (Domain Naming System); they were simply awarded a government contract to manage them after the previous overseer passed away.

His name was Joe Postel. Joe actually was one of the original creators of the Internet. He oversaw what was then known as the IANA (Internet Assigned Names Authority), which was based at the University of Southern California, until he died in ’98.

Since the Internet was invented in the United States, the U.S. government has always been the chief overseer of ICANN. More specifically, the Commerce Department has always been the one to keep tabs on ICANN.

This process is ending in October of 2015.

That’s when ICANN takes complete control of the database filled with the world’s web domains and IP addresses as the U.S. Commerce Department will relinquish their oversight.

So What?

Anyone who has a website or blog and conducts business online should probably pay attention to who is in charge of domain registration, considering how important it is for the Internet to provide the correct domain name with the correct IP address. If your domain name doesn’t have an IP address, or the wrong one, nobody will see your website.

ICANN has always made arrangements with registries like GoDaddy… the various accredited registries handle the distribution and record keeping of the left side of the “dot”, while ICANN is more focused on the right side of the dot (.com, .net, .org, etc.)

You would probably agree that this is something that has run pretty smoothly so far. I cannot think of any newsworthy issues with domain names and IP addresses. If you know of something I’ve missed, please share in the comments.

Government officials in the U.S. say the plan has always been to eventually transition the authority of Internet addresses from the U.S. to the “global community.” The U.S. government will be letting go of their oversight role and allowing ICANN full autonomy.

If this sounds like no big deal for you, here’s a simple analogy of what this is going to look like: ICANN has had one “client” to deal with for many years named the U.S. government. They provide ICANN all their funding and can tell ICANN what to do whenever they feel like it. ICANN is hired to provide the information superhighway with all of its domains and IPs.

Once their contract expires in less than two years, ICANN will be free to work with many different governments, organizations, and non-profits. All of these different “clients” will have an equal amount of access and influence with ICANN, thus a greater ability to manipulate and control of one of the most important foundations of the Internet.

Think about that a moment… Various governments, including China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, will suddenly be able to lobby their interests with ICANN and push for changes in the way domain names are distributed.

But don’t worry — the government says they won’t let the role of ICANN fall into the hands of the United Nations.

Not sure how this can be guaranteed once the U.S. no longer owns ICANN.

Maybe Privatizing ICANN Will Be Good?

For those who prefer privatization over government regulation, this may sound like a good idea. Releasing ICANN from government control will only bring more freedom to the Internet… right?

It should in theory… yet that isn’t guaranteed. Because let’s be real here: Do all the various governments around the world have the same definition of liberty or equal respect for freedom of speech?

Steve DelBianco is the executive director of NetChoice, a tech group that advocates for online business and has been one of the first to publicly question the wisdom and timing of this move. BelBianco is calling for the Obama Administration to somehow keep ICANN accountable even after the address system is completely out of their hands beyond 2015.

DelBianco and others, like Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, are calling for measures that will continue to preserve the integrity of a free Internet and prevent totalitarian regimes from being able to shut down domains (if they share the ear of ICANN, who would stop this?) or make it easier for a nation to censor the Internet inside their borders.

Imagine a world where a country like Russia could prevent any IP address from the U.S. to be seen by anyone inside their own territory. Suppose your online business has a lot of customers living in Russia… would this “splInternet” affect your bottom line?

The good news is not everyone has a dystopian view of where these Internet changes will take us. Many businesses such as Google, AT&T and Verizon have issued statements of enthusiastic support for this change.

And Senator John Thune, who is on the Commerce Committee that oversees ICANN has also publicly applauded the shift by saying he trusts “the innovators and entrepreneurs more than the bureaucrats — whether they’re in D.C. or Brussels.”

Why Is the U.S. Giving Up Internet Control?

Basically the intent here is to alleviate concerns of other countries that the U.S. is secretly controlling the Internet system or at minimum has unfair leverage. Plus, the Edward Snowden revelations only exacerbated this dilemma, although this transition had been on the table beforehand.

This move is all about the U.S. keeping its global traders happy, or at least lowering their suspicions, and that right there is not a bad thing.

Yet we can only hope at this point that these changes will go smoothly and benefit everyone.

Many questions still remain about the future of ICANN and the Internet.

If you want to talk more about this, don’t hold back any comments or questions… I will reply to everyone who joins the conversation.

So, does this news about the coming Internet ownership change make you happy or concerned?

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