FCC commissioner will ‘strongly oppose’ Internet giveaway if not convinced

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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A Federal Communications commissioner announced Tuesday that he would oppose the U.S. government’s Friday decision to hand over management of the Internet’s infrastructure to the “global Internet community” if it left open any risk of foreign government influence.

“If I am not convinced that a different governance structure would preserve Internet freedom, I will strongly oppose it,” Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said in a statement Tuesday. Pai made recent headlines by coming out against the commission’s proposed media evaluation survey, which the commissioner along with numerous media outlets cited as an unacceptable step toward media censorship.

Pai is the latest to join the collective voice of Internet policy experts and government officials expressing concern over the Commerce Department’s early weekend announcement to end its oversight contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in October 2015.

ICANN has managed domain names, assigned Internet protocol addresses, and executed a number of other functions essential to the Internet’s architecture under Commerce’s National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) since 2000. In short, ICANN designates the Internet’s highway system, pointing Web-connected devices to the servers and websites they’re looking for.

The department did not specify where management would transition to, other than a vague allusion to a global, multi-stakeholder Internet community, or how, other than a loose set of criteria calling for the continued stability, security, and freedom of the Web.

“In particular, those advocating change must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that their proposals would not increase the influence of repressive foreign governments over the Internet,” Pai said.

According to a former State Department official, potential influences could include those of the United Nations, which could seek to appropriate management of the Internet to build a revenue stream outside of member contributions and impose a Web tax based on destination, as some European telecommunications companies have proposed.

Another former Commerce Department official and head of NTIA warned such a move could endanger the security of the Web as a whole, which would result from a drop in security standards to address concerns of global, economic and Internet promotion equality.

The former chief tech policy advisor in the George W. Bush White House added that giving away management of the Internet “raises the stakes” on the future of Web governance.

“The current multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance has been a tremendous success. Any proposal to change that model therefore demands rigorous scrutiny, including close congressional oversight,” Pai said.

Congress is already on watch, according to a recent statement by South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune, a ranking member on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

“My colleagues and I on the Commerce Committee will be watching closely to see if the transition NTIA has announced results in an acceptable structure to ensure a stable and free Internet,” Thune said. “But I trust the innovators and entrepreneurs more than the bureaucrats – whether they’re in D.C. or Brussels.”

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