control over the Internet

Is the U.S. handing over control of the internet?

By Andrew Sullivan Aug 23, 2016

the truth is that on the internet, nobody has control.

omething is about to change — that much is true. Since its founding in 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has held a contract with the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). That contract was for “IANA functions,” which are useful and important functions that allow parts of the internet to work the way they do.

IANA, which stands for Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is like a land registry for the internet that prevents two different functions from laying claim to the same value at the same time.

For instance, when you visit a web page, you probably use the conventional port 443 for a secure connection. Everyone knows to use port 443 for this purpose (as opposed to, say, port 25, which is for mail) because it’s written down in an IANA registry. It wouldn’t matter which number we used as long as everyone used the same number. If everyone does not, then in order to make a connection you’d first have to negotiate what port to use, and that would be less convenient.

One of the IANA registries is the Domain Name System root zone. It holds the name servers for the top-level domains (such as .com and .org and country codes such as .us, .cn and .in). Ultimately, in the DNS, every response depends on the values in the root zone. This is why the job is a critical function.

The end of oversight by the U.S. government does not mean that ICANN gets to do whatever it wants. Instead, in the past two years, the internet community came together to invent new, community-based ways of ensuring that ICANN does a good job. If it doesn’t, the community can, in effect, fire ICANN. That is the way everything already works on the internet. The idea is to take the existing successful model of the open internet, built by voluntary collaboration, and use it again for that purpose.

The United States is not “giving away” the internet. NTIA is wisely acknowledging that the internet has grown up and that the system works as designed and doesn’t need governments to keep it going. On Oct. 1, nobody will be able to tell that anything has changed. We should all be thankful that NTIA recognizes that its job is complete and that it can step back confident that the same enlightened self-interest that keeps the internet delivering its magic will work for this part of the internet, too.


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