The U.S. government is ready to give up what remains of its direct control over the Internet. What does that mean exactly?
Before you throw on your tin-foil hat and rush to the conspiracy forums, the U.S. government couldn’t do whatever it wanted with the Internet all this time. Its control over the Internet never really affected the way you directly experience the Internet. Basically, the U.S. government oversaw the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
ICANN basically oversees the guts of the Internet, like the domain name system (DNS) and the way computers with one another. It's also responsible for coordinating these functions across the world. ICANN explains it like this:
To reach another person on the Internet you have to type an address into your computer -- a name or a number. That address must be unique so that computers know where to find each other. ICANN coordinates these unique identifiers across the world. Without that coordination, we wouldn't have one global Internet.
They’re the Department of Transportation of the Internet.
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ICANN is made up of international stakeholders and government representatives. It’s supposed to be a democratic body and it calls its model of operation a “bottom-up, consensus-driven, multi-stakeholder” model. It wants to present and solve issues from the grassroots level up. Doing so allows anyone, no matter where they’re from or who they represent, to have a say about how the Internet works.
What’s going to happen now is the U.S. government will hand over the rest of its duties to ICANN. The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is what has been “controlling” the Internet all along, has established a set of principles the transition plan must have.
So long as ICANN can maintain the multi-stakeholder model, achieve the “security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS,” meet the needs of customers and partners, and most important (at least to all of us), preserve the openness of the Internet, then the Internet’s all theirs in 2015, when the NTIA contract ends.
Some speculate the decision to relinquish control has to do with recent NSA revelations about the U.S. government’s Internet snooping, but the NTIA maintains that this was the plan all along. The U.S. government has had plans to privatize the DNS system since 1997.
Steve Crocker, the ICANN board chair, said “the community has to step up and engage in a constructive dialogue.” He added that now is the time that the rest of the world “start putting concrete constructive proposals on the table and turn this into an effective process.”
Ultimately, nothing much changes for the average Internet user -- the keys are being handed over. So say hello to your future Internet overlords, which you probably didn’t even know you had.