U.S. Will Delay Plan to Give Up Internet Powers

The head of ICANN says his group needs more time to free itself from U.S. control.

Fadi Chehade, the CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. 
National Journal
June 10, 2015, 8:06 a.m.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment will likely keep con­trol over im­port­ant In­ter­net man­age­ment powers un­til next year.

That’s be­cause the In­ter­net Cor­por­a­tion for As­signed Names and Num­bers, or IC­ANN, the non­profit group that man­ages the In­ter­net’s ad­dress sys­tem, won’t be ready to run in­de­pend­ently from the U.S. gov­ern­ment on time, the group’s lead­er said.

“There’s no ques­tion that Septem­ber 30 is simply not the end of the con­tract — it is just not go­ing to hap­pen at that time,” Fadi Chehadé, the CEO of IC­ANN, said in an in­ter­view this week with Na­tion­al Journ­al. “And I think most people around the world real­ize this.”

Some Re­pub­lic­ans have raised alarm that re­lin­quish­ing con­trol over IC­ANN could al­low au­thor­it­ari­an re­gimes like Rus­sia or China to seize new powers over the In­ter­net or even cen­sor web­sites. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and IC­ANN say the trans­ition will only strengthen sup­port for an In­ter­net free from con­trol by any one coun­try or group.

Chehadé said he plans to sub­mit a pro­pos­al to the U.S. gov­ern­ment on how IC­ANN would op­er­ate in­de­pend­ently in mid-Oc­to­ber. The United States would then sign off on that pro­pos­al, set­ting up an ac­tu­al trans­fer of au­thor­ity for some­time next year, he said. Chehadé plans to step down from his post at IC­ANN next March to re­turn to the private sec­tor.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been sig­nal­ing for months that a delay in the trans­ition may be ne­ces­sary.

“We have nev­er viewed the Septem­ber 30 date as a dead­line but have stated from the start of this pro­cess that the trans­ition plan­ning should pro­ceed ac­cord­ing to whatever sched­ule the com­munity sets,” Larry Strick­ling, the head of the Com­merce De­part­ment’s Na­tion­al Tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions and In­form­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, wrote in a let­ter to in­ter­na­tion­al of­fi­cials and IC­ANN last month.

Septem­ber 30 is the ex­pir­a­tion date for the cur­rent U.S. con­tract with IC­ANN to run the set of tech­nic­al pro­ced­ures that al­lows com­puters around the world to con­nect to Web ad­dresses.

Al­though the United States has gen­er­ally not in­terfered in IC­ANN’s op­er­a­tions or de­cisions, oth­er coun­tries have re­sen­ted the out­sized role that the United States has in run­ning the In­ter­net. Ed­ward Snowden’s leaks about U.S. sur­veil­lance only ex­acer­bated that ten­sion.

So the United States an­nounced last year that it would end its con­tract with IC­ANN, al­low­ing the group to an­swer only to an ar­ray of in­ter­na­tion­al stake­hold­ers that in­cludes private com­pan­ies, ad­vocacy groups, aca­dem­ics, and en­gin­eers, in ad­di­tion to gov­ern­ments.

Chehadé said he isn’t con­cerned that oth­er coun­tries may in­ter­pret the delay as the U.S. drag­ging its feet on the trans­fer of In­ter­net au­thor­ity. “I think if we had not moved, I think people would be very wor­ried,” he said. “But it’s amaz­ing how much work we got done in 16 months.”

He also ar­gued that the hos­til­ity from Re­pub­lic­ans in Wash­ing­ton against the trans­ition is sub­sid­ing. While Re­pub­lic­ans still have con­cerns, most are now fo­cused on try­ing to en­sure that safe­guards are in place, rather than try­ing to block the trans­ition en­tirely. The House Com­mu­nic­a­tions and Tech­no­logy Sub­com­mit­tee un­an­im­ously ap­proved a bill Wed­nes­day that would give Con­gress a chance to re­view IC­ANN’s pro­pos­al for run­ning in­de­pend­ently.

“Throughout this pro­cess, we have done our best to be cog­niz­ant of the im­pact and ap­pear­ance of our ac­tions on the in­ter­na­tion­al stage,” Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Greg Walden, an Ore­gon Re­pub­lic­an, said be­fore his pan­el’s vote. “We re­cog­nize these con­sid­er­a­tions, but we also feel it would be ir­re­spons­ible to ig­nore the very real risks as­so­ci­ated with a re­lin­quish­ment of the U.S. role in In­ter­net gov­ernance, no mat­ter how sym­bol­ic.”

Chehadé said IC­ANN will have pro­ced­ures in place to pre­vent the group from be­ing taken over by any one gov­ern­ment or com­pany. The trans­ition, he said, will ul­ti­mately strengthen the “multistake­hold­er mod­el” of In­ter­net gov­ernance, in which de­cisions are made with as much as con­sensus as pos­sible from the glob­al com­munity of com­pan­ies, gov­ern­ments, and In­ter­net users.

“It’s an en­deavor for glob­al peace,” he said.

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