Transitioning the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority to International Control is Much Ado About Nothing

Positions against final international transition of Internet’s addressing scheme are wrong.  Further, they appear to be nothing more than fear mongering by exploiting a rather nuanced technical function the average public shouldn’t care about. Invest reading about 600 words below and make up your own mind.

The Internet, like radio frequencies and telephone numbers, cannot operate without coordination. Direct dialing across the world to a mobile phone requires a global scheme to route and connect the call. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has managed these shared resources for over 125 years with roots linking telegraph systems between countries.  Without these agreements, the trade and political benefits of instantaneous worldwide communications would have been nearly impossible.

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The Internet dates back to the 1960’s originating as a highly resilient network for the Department of Defense. This network was conceived to allow electronic communications between dissimilar computers. In 1981, the government allowed acceptable use to expand to research institutions to stimulate closer public and private sector collaboration. In 1991, then senator Al Gore introduced the High Performance Computing Act of 1991 (public law 102–194). A key provision opened the Internet for purely commercial purposes hyper-propelling it to the transformational resource it is today.

The Internet has grown from a network of just 20 locations in 1980 to 50,000 in 1996 across 7 continents to a global resource used by over 3.6B users or better than 60% of the world’s population.

ICANN is a Phone Book

Duplicate addresses on the Internet causes chaos. Until 1998, this coordination, known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), was handled by one person, actually a volunteer. The Gore bill’s commercial expansion quickly exhausted this resource prompting the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the Department of Commerce, to create a private corporation to manage this vital function. Called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), this company has maintained the integrity of Internet addressing facilitating worldwide free flow of information.

The Internet works on numbered addresses. However, as a convenience to users, the World Wide Web uses domain names, for example, http://www.google.com. Without domain names, Google’s IP address http://173.194.219.138 would need to be entered each time (go ahead try it, it works). This instant translation function is maintained in Domain Name Servers or DNS spread around the world constantly updating each other. ICANN’s function is just the central registrar to make sure new names and addresses do not conflict, then seed the servers.

How Internet Censorship Really Works

Real control of the Internet rests in the apparatus (routers) that manage the paths (routes) connecting users to destinations. For a user and destination both in the US, all of the routers are under US sovereignty. However, If the user and destination are in different countries the routers are sovereign to each country the path must traverse to reach the destination.

It takes very little reading to learn that nations control Internet information flow by manipulating their sovereign routers. For example, it is well known that China censors many sites such as Google. China allows the ICANN DNS entry for http://www.google.com to fully resolve http://173.194.219.138. In fact, they count on ICANN to keep their target destination addresses up to date allowing their routers to efficiently seize illegal connections and kick off law enforcement.

Therefore, ICANN functions retained by the US or pushed to a global union are not a factor in Internet censorship nor are a threat national security or sovereignty.

The Internet has expanded to where only 9% of the world’s users are in North America. The time has come push this burden and cost to the international realm to stand with the coordination of all other international systems from air travel to telephone calls. Single nation domination of a world resource has never rung the freedom bell, in fact, it tends to stimulate alternatives that subvert and undermine the original intention.

Finally, in a world where Internet has driven freedom’s most transformational impact since radio, where do US site addresses stand the best chance of world exposure, in a directory managed by the US or one managed by an international agency?

It is indeed unfortunate that the prime educator for a large part of the public is Ted Cruz, his acolytes and their agenda of alarmist soundbites amplifying a non-issue into a salacious impending calamity just to ring their PAC cash registers.