The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on Oct. 1 will finish the process of privatizing the Internet’s address book, a task it started in the 1990s.
When the Federal government recognized the Internet’s potential in the 1990s, the White House asked the Department of Commerce’s (DOC) NTIA to privatize the Domain Name System (DNS). The DNS creates and stores the names of Internet sites. Because of the DNS, users type in memorable names rather than strings of numbers when they wish to visit Web addresses.
With the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), NTIA worked to make sure the Internet’s stakeholders were representatives from private industry, academia, and other online communities rather than the Federal government. The Federal government has no statutory authority over ICANN. In an opinion editorial on the DOC’s website, Penny Pritzker, secretary of Commerce, said the NTIA must complete its mission so that control of the Internet will stay out of the clutches of authoritarian governments.
“In recent years, Russia, China, and other nations that censor content and limit free expression have voiced support for putting the United Nations in charge, arguing that if the U.S. is so involved, every government should be involved,” Pritzker wrote in the post. “We must not let that happen. Shifting control to the U.N.–or any intergovernmental body–would leave the Internet vulnerable to geopolitical disputes and endless bureaucratic delays. It would also chill innovation and impede the Internet’s expansion to billions of people worldwide.”
The Obama administration announced it would finally complete the task of privatizing the DNS in 2014. This move is meant to stymie Russia and China’s monopolization of the Web. Pritzker said the Center for Technology and Democracy and Human Rights Watch, as well as industry groups such as the Internet Association, supported this proposition.
She said it is important that the Internet remain accountable to the people and companies who use it. According to the post, more than 5 billion people will use the Internet in 2020. Pritzker said that, if Congress tries to hinder the privatization effort, they would only strengthen those who seek total government control.
“Yet just as the United States, our allies, and global Internet freedom advocates prepare to enact a long-term framework to protect the Web from government intrusion, some in Congress are threatening to derail this effort. Their claim that President Obama ‘is giving away the Internet,’ is a patently false and misleading distortion,” Pritzker wrote. “The deceptive claim that President Obama is ‘giving away the Internet’ implies that this transition somehow weakens American power–when in truth, it makes us stronger.”