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The Day The Internet Died

October 3, 2016

You probably didn’t even notice. Many people who should know better declared it wasn’t a death it was a rebirth. But, make no mistake, over the weekend, the internet, as we know it, died. 

ICANN, is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is the private corporation that controls how things get named on the internet. And by “things” I mean domains. If you have a blog, or a website, it was ICANN that defined how you could name it. You might buy your domain from WordPress or GoDaddy, but, those domain registrars can only sell you a domain that ICANN allows. Ever wonder why companies have a .com at the end of their web address? Or, why you cannot have a space in your domain name? ICANN set those rules. 

ICANN was formed September 18, 1998 to keep track of names on the Internet. It was the ultimate authority on what things were called and where they lived. ICANN made sure that when you typed you were routed to Microsoft Corporation’s website. And while ICANN is a private corporation (actually organized as a non-profit) for 18 years, it had a single client, the United States government, specifically the Department of Commerce. A contract, called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), gave ICANN the authority to control all the naming things on the Internet. That contract ran out on October 1, 2016, last Saturday and the US government chose not to renew it. And that was the death of the Internet. 

Rodney, you’re being melodramatic. You’re posting this to your blog on Monday morning. If the Internet died, how is that possible? The world didn’t end.

If I were to contract inoperable cancer, or some other terminal disease, I might not die immediately. I had a good friend named Marty Hill. Marty had terminal cancer when I met him. He knew it, and was surprisingly sanguine about it. 

How ya’ doin, Marty?

I’m upright. Any day you’re upright is a good day.

Marty’s was a slow moving cancer. Slow moving, but like a retreating tide, inevitable. Cancer finally claimed Marty this year, 10 years after he’d been diagnosed. However, his death was marked from the day the doctors gave him his initial diagnoses. 

So, what’s the big deal? How can the expiration of a contract you’ve never heard of with an organization you’ve only slightly heard of, be so bad? ICANN still exists. The US Commerce Department still exists. But, the Commerce Department no longer can control what ICANN does. That is a very, very bad thing. Rather than being advised by the Commerce department, ICANN will now be advised by an international board. 

But, being advised by an international board isn’t a bad thing, right? Supporters of this move talk about the benefits of more global involvement. ICANN is “advised” by several groups or committees, the Governmental Advisory Committe (GAC), made up representatives from 111 countries around the world; the AT-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), is composed of individual internet users who have been chosen by the Regional At-Large Organizations and Nominating Committee; the Root Server System Advisory Committe, proovides input on the DNS root server system; the secuSity and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC), which is made up of security experts; and the Technical Liason Group (TLG) which is made up of representatives from various international technical organizations that deal with the internet. 

Okay, so what? A bunch of committees, many of which sound perfectly reasonable. The problem is that up until last week, those committees could make recommendations, but the Commerce Department could trump their recommendations. Maybe you think this gave the US government too much control over the Internet. After all, what gives the USA the right to dictate internet policies for the entire world? 

Actually there are two really important reasons that the USA should fill that role. First, the USA built the internet. It’s easy to forget in the age of globalization, cloud computing and multi-national server farms, that the Internet wasn’t something that simply sprang into being fully formed. The USA, starting with the government DARPA project, birthed the Internet and saw it through the infant stages. Today, it’s grown up and no one can claim they “own” the Internet. But, the USA was there first and spent time and treasure to make it a reality. 

Second, the Internet needs a traffic cop. Maybe you think it shouldn’t be the USA, but ask yourself what other country has a history of freedom to match the USA? Winston Churchill, the great British Prime Minister declared,

Democracy is the worst form of government, except for every other one we’ve tried.

The USA may not be a perfect caretaker, but it’s better than anyone else. But, why even have a caretaker? Isn’t the internet grown up enough to be free from its parent’s apron strings? 

No. Not even close. This week I’ll explore exactly why this is a terrible idea and may lead to the death of the internet as we know it. I hope I’m wrong, but I think it’s irresponsible to blithely make this decision to sever the USA’s oversight role without considering the possible unintended consequences. 

I’ll explore the following topics this week:

  • Monday – Introduction to the issues of ICANN’s change
  • Tuesday – What does the future look like (The good one)
  • Wednesday  – How did we get here? A brief history of ICANN
  • Thursday – Bad, bad, bad – A dystopian view of the future
  • Friday – How to fix it

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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