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Future So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades (ICANN’s Vision Of The Future)

October 4, 2016

Internet users will see no change or difference in their experience online as a result of the stewardship transition. . .The proposals are aimed at enhancing ICANN’s accountability.

ICANN Announcement about the Expiring Contract 

October 1st, the contract between the Internet Corporation on Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the United States Department of Commerce expired. Supporters of this change have promoted it as a positive move. Today, I wanted to briefly talk about what ICANN thinks the future holds and go through their announcment in a little more detail. You can find the entire announcement here

This historic moment marks the transition of the coordination and management of the Internet’s unique identifiers to the private-sector, a process that has been committed to and underway since 1998.

I’m a free market guy. I like private enterprise. And generally think government should stay out of the way. I’m not sure I would privatize the issuing of driver’s licenses though. 

“This transition was envisioned 18 years ago, yet it was the tireless work of the global Internet community, which drafted the final proposal, that made this a reality,” said ICANN Board Chair Stephen D. Crocker. “This community validated the multistakeholder model of Internet governance. It has shown that a governance model defined by the inclusion of all voices, including business, academics, technical experts, civil society, governments and many others is the best way to assure that the Internet of tomorrow remains as free, open and accessible as the Internet of today.”

I’m not sure a single event validates their model. Let’s face it, we all hope this goes well, but the devil is in the details. ICANN seems to be suggesting that including all of these voices into the discussion making process will foster that spirit of openness. You might consider the model of ancient Greece, where Athens was governed by the voice of the people in a democracy. that would be the ideal. Democracy has also been described as “the tyranny of the majority.” It could be really, really good, or it could be very, very bad.

Internet users will see no change or difference in their experience online as a result of the stewardship transition.

Today, October 4th, the internet is still standing and the sun still shines. But, that should not be taken as evidence that all is well in Mudville. We have released the tiger from his cage and he is naturally going to take a moment to get his bearings in this new reality. It’s what will come months and possibly even years down the line that will determine if October 1st was the beginning of a new era or simply the end of an old one. 

In managing the coordination of the Internet’s unique identifiers, ICANN plays a small but significant role in the Internet’s ecosystem. For more than 15 years, ICANN has worked in concert with other technical bodies such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Regional Internet Registries, top-level domain registries and registrars, and many others.

Here are some of those details inwhich lives the devil. An ignition key plays a small but significant role in the operation of your car. However, compromising that key is enough to compromise the entire car. 

The final chapter of the privatization process began in 2014, when NTIA asked ICANN to convene the global multistakeholder community, which is made up of private-sector representatives, technical experts, academics, civil society, governments and individual Internet end users, to come together and formulate proposals to both replace NTIA’s historic stewardship role and enhance ICANN’s accountability mechanisms.

Something else significant happened in 2014. A man named Edward Snowden exposed a pattern of spying by the US government that was unprecedented to that point. The world looked on in horror as it came to light that the USA was taking advantage of its unique position as the keeper of the keys to snoop on traffic going through the internet. The world then demanded that the USA give up control. 

The proposals reinforce ICANN’s existing multistakeholder model and are also aimed at enhancing ICANN’s accountability. The improvements include empowering the global Internet community to have direct recourse if they disagree with decisions made by ICANN the organization or the Board.

The downside of the pre-October 1 world was that if you disagreed with ICANN, and the USA government wasn’t interested in helping you, you were out of luck. The new proposal is that somehow the internet community in general will be the arbiter. More deviling details. 

The IANA stewardship transition is a testament to the tireless work of the global community, and a validation of the multistakeholder model that frames that community.

The internet is truly one of the marvels of the modern age. It has allowed many third world communities to skip the industrial age and go straight from the pre-industrial age to the information age. It’s the great equalizer. Bill Gates made his fortune designing and selling software that had to be loaded on a computer. Mark Zuckerberg skipped over the necessity of physically manufacturing components and went straight to building a service for customers. They illustrate the pre/post interent worlds we live d in 25 years ago and the world we live in now. 

It’s possible that the new ICANN charter is simply the next step in the evolution of the internet. It’s possible that the naysayers like me are all wrong. In fact, I hope I am, because the future that I envision given the changes in teh ICANN charter are dire indeed. 

This the second in a five part series on the recent change to ICANN’s contract and governance. 

Monday – The Day The Internet Died (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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