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[bc-gnso] Sharing NetChoice Op-Ed on NTIA Announcement

  • To: "'bc - GNSO list'" <bc-gnso@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Subject: [bc-gnso] Sharing NetChoice Op-Ed on NTIA Announcement
  • From: Steve DelBianco <sdelbianco@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 20 Mar 2014 18:10:45 +0000

Just a little something to read as your trek or prep for ICANN Singapore.

A Washington DC publication aimed at US Congressional audiences ran today in 
The Hill.  
 and below)

(note: there’s nothing here for political partisans. This is about where we are 
and the work ahead of us)

Rewriting the future of Internet governance

Americans created, built, and advanced the Internet, while leading the effort 
to protect it from censorship or discriminatory taxes and regulation.  But now 
the U.S. government is releasing a big part of its stewardship role, leaving it 
to others to chart a path that keeps the Internet secure, stable, and 

Last week the Commerce Department announced that it would relinquish control of 
its contractual authority over the Internet’s global addressing system.

The positive global response was immediate and vocal, signaling that the move 
might relieve some of  the intense pressure from foreign governments demanding 
an end to the United States’ unique legacy role in Internet oversight.
That pressure, which has existed for more than a decade, spiked following the 
Snowden revelations, despite the lack of any linkage between NSA surveillance 
and the technical operation of the Internet’s addressing system.

By relinquishing its legacy ties, the administration may relieve a thorny 
diplomatic problem, but the effect this move will have on the Internet itself 
is less clear.

Commerce has asked for a transition plan to move control of the Domain Name 
System into the hands of “the global multistakeholder community”, and it called 
upon ICANN to develop that plan.  ICANN is the nonprofit Internet Corporation 
for Assigned Names and Numbers, created by the Clinton Administration in 1998 
to assume day-to-day functions and policymaking for Internet addresses.

The Commerce Department had oversight over ICANN for the subsequent decade, 
conducting performance reviews and occasionally reassuring the world about U.S. 
stewardship.   In 2005 when some nations hinted at shifting the U.S. role to 
the United Nations, Commerce “committed to taking no action that would have the 
potential to adversely impact the effective and efficient operation of the DNS 
and will therefore maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or 
modifications to the authoritative root zone file.”

By 2009, ICANN had matured to the point that oversight could be relaxed in 
favor of an agreement with the Commerce Department, known as the Affirmation of 
Commitments.   Under this document, the U.S. Government gave up its direct 
oversight in exchange for ICANN’s commitment to serve the global public 
interest, subject to regular reviews of its accountability and transparency, 
and the security, stability, and resiliency of the domain name system.  For all 
its worth, however, the Affirmation can be cancelled by ICANN with just a 
120-day notice.

But with or without the Affirmation in place, the U.S. Government has always 
retained the contractual authority to pull the plug on ICANN if it failed to 
live up to its obligations.  In 2012, for example, Commerce Undersecretary 
Larry Strickling used his contractual authority to pressure ICANN to raise its 
operational standards for managing the root zone.

Now, the Commerce Department is letting go of the plug, suggesting this kind of 
contract leverage is no longer needed and that ICANN has matured to the point 
that it needs no external authority.  While the politics of this decision may 
make all the sense in the world, the process of transition and the methods that 
will replace U.S. oversight have yet to be developed.

The government’s current contract with ICANN runs through September 2015, by 
which time the Commerce Department must approve the transition plan ICANN comes 
up with.  Commerce announced a few conditions under which it will approve a 
transition proposal, and there is plenty of time for the Administration to 
raise the bar for ICANN.

The Commerce Department should reject any transition plan that leaves ICANN 
accountable only to itself and to the world, since that’s like being 
accountable to nobody at all. If ICANN is no longer going to answer to the U.S. 
Government, it must answer to someone with the authority to correct the 
organization if it goes astray.

Commerce has promised it would reject any transition plan that gives control to 
governments or intergovernmental bodies like the UN.  But once ICANN has full 
control, Commerce won’t have the contractual leverage to prevent governments 
from capturing ICANN.

Congress can also play a role, by asking how the Administration came to this 
decision at this time, and by advising the Commerce Department on how to 
hand-off control without dropping the ball on the Internet’s security and 

But ultimately, it will fall to the private sector and civil society – through 
our participation in ICANN – to design mechanisms that pressure ICANN to be 
responsible and accountable. The “global multistakeholder community” may not be 
ready for the task that the Commerce Department has handed us.  But ready or 
not, the future of the Internet may hinge on our success.

Steve DelBianco
Executive Director
http://www.NetChoice.org<http://www.netchoice.org/> and 

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