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Bill Sargent, Mark Mansius and John Gay are writing columns on important issues for today.

The World's Internet Needs to Stay "Free!"

April 21, 2014

Last month the Administration announced that it was going to end its contractual relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (or ICANN) in 2015.  Is this something we should be concerned about?

Currently the U.S. government doesn’t “control” the Internet in the normal sense of the word but it does have contractual oversight over ICANN.  This non-profit corporation then manages the “back end” of the Internet by making decisions on the assignment of domain names (e.g., .com, .org, .edu and such); the assignment of IP addresses; and other functions basic to the operation of the Internet.  Although many who use the Internet may never have heard about ICANN, it plays a critical role in keeping the Web running.

The concern is if the U.S. relinquishes its contractual oversight, a vacuum will be created and there are a number of other countries that are more than willing to jump in and try to control the “Net.”  Most of these nations – notably Russia and China – are known for their human rights violations and restrictions on free speech.  China, for example, is infamous for its censorship of the Internet.

As long as ICANN remains under U.S. supervision, governments that are hostile to free speech will not be able to rein in this growing medium that allows an open expression of speech.  China, for example, often blocks its people from accessing content from the West but it cannot stop people in the West from reading stories critical of the Chinese government.  But if China was able to gain control of the Internet it could then impose its will on what content is allowed to be viewed -- worldwide.

Add to this possibility that a government with control over ICANN could also increase the cost of getting domain names or IP addresses and it becomes a prime target for the restriction of free speech and the taxation of users, both of which stymie the original purpose of the Internet – the free expression and exchange of information.

If the Administration follows through on its proposal to withdraw from its contractual oversight relationship with ICANN it will be committing yet another of the blunders for which is has become renowned.  The Internet was birthed in our country where freedom reined.  But the Administration continues to follow multinational models inviting to the table those who oppose freedom.

But wait a minute; don’t the “Three Musketeers” oppose government intervention in people’s daily lives?  One would think that we would be in favor of big government withdrawing from this area of responsibility!  You would be correct except that one of the primary responsibilities of the federal government according to the U.S. Constitution is to "provide for the common defense." In this instance, by continuing this contractual oversight of an international resource our government would be protecting the free flow of ideas and information that is at the core of the Internet.  Maintaining this international leadership would be continuing the fight for freedom.  Unfortunately, this Administration does not seem interested in being the beacon on a hill, a world leader in the never ending fight for freedom. 

Bill, Mark, and John