What would the Internet look like if it were controlled by China? Or Russia? Or the United Nations?
The prospect is unnerving to say the least, but such a scenario is possible under an Obama administration plan to cede authority of the Web’s core architecture to a yet-to-be-determined global organization.
As one expert pointed out, not since President Carter’s 1977 giveaway of the Panama Canal — another U.S.-envisioned, U.S.-financed, world-changing project — has such an important American asset been cast aside for nothing.
The Obama administration has said it would turn over the powerful Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as ICANN, to a “global multistakeholder community” once its contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce expires in 2015.
The nonprofit ICANN manages the systems that enable all Internet-connected devices to find each other, including the “domain name” system that creates web addresses with such familiar endings as .com, .gov or .org.
Unlike a purely technical venture that can be overseen by engineers, ICANN is a quasi-political entity — a type of online planning and zoning board — with a major say in who gets digital real estate and what they are allowed to do with it.
ICANN in American control gives the U.S. leverage in debates over how the Internet operates, and provides us with a trump card to fend off any international attacks on Internet freedom.
The process has worked well since 1998. If it’s not broken, why is Obama trying to “fix” it?