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US NTIA's plan to end ICANN contract puts Internet freedom at risk, critics say

Grant Gross | April 11, 2014
The freedom and openness of the Internet are at stake after the U.S. government announced plans to end its contractual oversight of ICANN, some critics said Thursday.

The U.S. government will continue to be an "active and vigorous participant" in ICANN, he said.

Fadi Chehadé, ICANN's president and CEO, urged the U.S. government to embrace its long-advocated multistakeholder oversight of ICANN. "This is the time to let go and show the world our trust," he said. "This is the moment the world wants to watch us trust our own model. Let's not show them we don't trust it."

Still, some witnesses at the hearing raised concerns that the end of the IANA contract would remove the last outside oversight of ICANN. Before the transition, ICANN should consider setting up an independent auditor or inspector general, said Paul Rosenzweig, founder of Red Branch Law and Consulting.

Without those outside controls, there's nothing stopping ICANN from changing its own practices and bylaws, he said. "All of the restrictions ... are internal to ICANN," he said. "Times come where people waive those restrictions or change them, or they mutate over time."

Without the NTIA contract, there's no limit on ICANN's ability to raise fees on its domain-name system services, added Daniel Castro, senior analyst at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a tech-focused think tank.

"Without U.S. oversight, ICANN has the potential to grow into the world's largest unregulated monopoly," he said. "We should be very mindful of creating a global organization with little accountability that can effectively tax the Internet."

The participants in ICANN would not allow the organization to become an unregulated monopoly, Strickling countered. That view "totally disregards the presence of hundreds of stakeholders, thousands of stakeholders, who actually set the policies for ICANN," he said. "If you're saying [the groups involved] are all going to allow that to happen, then you're basically saying you don't believe in the multistakeholder model."

 

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