by Keith Fletcher, Chief Operations Officer at Speros

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. Freedom of expression consists of the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the implied rights of association and belief.

The United States stands alone in this assertion that every voice should be able to speak. Most countries have some provision for Freedom of Speech in the laws or constitutions. However, nearly every country has limitations on free speech. Several countries are notable for an extreme censorship and lack of free speech: Iran, North Korea, Nepal, and China are all examples. People are often arrested or executed in these countries for speaking out.

Now imagine if these countries were in control of the Internet, and censored everything that was posted, tweeted, shared, liked or added on any website in any country. Imagine if small businesses in the United States were monitored for the content they created, or if an American student couldn’t access information concerning a project, because one of these governments thought the subject was inappropriate.

If the United States releases its authority over ICANN, problems like these could arise before too long. By relinquishing all power and control of the internet to the other governments of the world, we face the potential of experiencing the censorship that citizens of oppressive governments experience. We, the people, need to start speaking out.

As Speros has become aware of this growing threat, we have begun encouraging the business community to be aware of this situation. Doing nothing is not an option right now. ICANN is being turned over to a global group of managers and taken away from US based control. This new control will not be subject to our constitution or our right to free expression. The only way to ensure that the entire world, and our freedom of expression on the internet, is protected is if the US Commerce Department remains in control.

If you aren’t sure of the issues surrounding ICANN and the possible transfer coming this fall, here are some Frequently Asked Questions:

What is ICANN?
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN /ˈaɪkæn/ eye-kan) is an organization that is responsible for the coordination of maintenance and methodology of several databases of unique identifiers related to the namespaces of the Internet, and ensuring the network’s stable and secure operation.

What are ICANN’s specific roles and responsibilities?
Much of ICANN’s work has concerned the Internet’s global Domain Name System, including policy development for internationalization of the DNS system, introduction of new generic top-level domains (TLDs), and the operation of root name servers. The numbering facilities ICANN manages include the Internet Protocol address spaces for IPv4 and IPv6, and assignment of address blocks to regional Internet registries. ICANN also maintains registries of Internet protocol identifiers. ICANN performs the actual technical maintenance work of the central Internet address pools and DNS Root registries pursuant to the IANA function contract. ICANN’s primary principles of operation have been described as helping preserve the operational stability of the Internet; to promote competition; to achieve broad representation of the global Internet community; and to develop policies appropriate to its mission through bottom-up, consensus-based processes.

What is the history of ICANN?
ICANN was created on September 18, 1998, and incorporated on September 30, 1998. It is headquartered in Los Angeles. On September 29, 2006, ICANN signed an agreement with the United States Department of Commerce (DOC), moving the organization further towards a solely multi-stakeholder governance model. (The multi-stakeholder community is a term used to describe private-sector users as well as others with a stake in Internet governance.) On October 1, 2009, the U.S. Department of Commerce gave up its control of ICANN, completing ICANN’s transition.

What is the current relationship between the U.S. government and ICANN?
The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), which is the U.S. Department of Commerce agency principally responsible for advising the President on telecommunications and information policy issues, represents the U.S. government in ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), which provides advice to the ICANN Board on the public policy aspects of the broad range of issues pending before ICANN. Generally, NTIA’s programs and policymaking focus largely on expanding broadband Internet access and adoption in America, expanding the use of spectrum by all users, and ensuring that the Internet remains an engine for continued innovation and economic growth. The NTIA is also the Executive Branch expert on issues relating to the Domain Name System (DNS) and supports a multi-stakeholder approach to the coordination of the DNS to ensure the long-term viability of the Internet as a force for innovation and economic growth.

What is the U.S. government doing to further privatize ICANN?
In March 2014, the Obama administration announced the NTIA plans to move one part of the governance system – the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, or IANA, which is part of the domain name system, from the Department of Commerce to ICANN by the fall of 2015, when the current contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) expires on September 30, 2015.

Why did the U.S. government make this decision?
The U.S. is preparing to “transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multi-stakeholder community” in an effort to move important Internet technical functions to the global Internet community. The U.S. government’s current responsibilities to be transitioned include the procedural role of administering changes to the Domain Name System’s (DNS) to the authoritative root zone file – the database containing the lists of names and addresses of all top-level domains – as well as serving as the historic steward of the unique identifiers registries for Domain names, IP addresses, and protocol parameters.

How is ICANN preparing for the transition?
In making its announcement, the U.S. recognized ICANN’s maturation in becoming an effective multi-stakeholder organization and requested that ICANN convene the global community to develop the transition process from of the U.S. stewardship to a global community consensus-driven mechanism. Immediately following the U.S. announcement, ICANN launched a process to transition the role of the U.S. government relating to the Internet’s unique identifiers system. ICANN’s President and CEO Fadi Chehadé has stated by the time the current contract with the
U.S. Government expires in September 2015, he anticipates having a defined and clear process for global multi-stakeholder stewardship of ICANN’s performance of these technical functions.

What are the specifics of the transition process?
ICANN is in the process of developing a transition proposal that will be reviewed and approved by the multi-stakeholder community, the ICANN Board of Directors, and the NTIA. Two groups are overseeing the transition process. The IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) was established in June 2014. Thirty individuals from 13 stakeholder constituencies are charged with drafting and submitting a proposal on the steps needed to ensure the transition will comply with the requirements outlined by the NTIA. The ICANN Accountability and Governance Cross Community Working Group (CCWG) was established in October 2014 and is charged with developing “proposals that would enhance ICANN’s accountability towards all stakeholders” after the U.S. role ends. It has identified two work streams: those accountability mechanisms that must be in place or committed to prior to the transition and those that are important but can wait until after the transition to be implemented.

What is the current status of the transition process?
The CCWG had set a deadline of June 30 for delivering its recommendations to the Board and the ICG plans to deliver its final proposal to the NTIA for review and presumed acceptance on July 31. The NTIA would unlikely make a final decision before receiving both proposals. .

Will ICANN be able to meet the September timeline?
If the ICG and CCWG proposals are transmitted to the NTIA by July 31, the NTIA would have a month to assess the proposals before the August 31 deadline for notifying ICANN if it decides to extend the contract. Congress is scheduled to be in recess in August. Thus, the proposal will be submitted and a decision will be made by the NTIA while Congress, which has expressed great interest in this issue, will not be able to exercise oversight by questioning the NTIA, ICANN, or industry experts at a formal hearing, thoroughly assessing the proposal, or adopting legislation expressing support or opposition. Moreover, since ICANN will wait to implement major reforms until after the NTIA notifies the organization that they are acceptable, even if the NTIA approves the proposal, there is virtually no chance that critical and binding reforms to ICANN will be adopted and in effect before the NTIA must decide to extend the contract or let it expire.

What happens if ICANN cannot meet the September deadline?
Unfortunately, the announced timelines indicate that necessary procedures and reforms may not be in place before the Commerce Department must decide whether to extend its contract with ICANN or let it expire. To allow sufficient time for consideration and implementation, the Commerce Department should be prepared to exercise its option to extend the contract with ICANN for two years, through September 2017.

Will a contract extension be necessary?
NTIA administrator Lawrence Strickling and ICANN CEO Fade Chehade have both insisted that September 30 is a goal, not a deadline. The NTIA has the ability to extend the IANA functions contract for up to four years and the U.S. can exercise its option to extend the contract with ICANN through September 2017.

What isn’t changing?
Independent of the U.S. transition, the roles of the Internet technical organizations, including ICANN’s role as administrator of the Internet’s unique identifier system, remain unchanged. The Internet’s Unique Identifier functions are not apparent to most Internet users, but they play a critical role in maintaining a single, global, unified and interoperable Internet.

What is ICANN’s role in the 21st century Internet?
Setting the rules of the road for the coming global digital age will be one of the great challenges for policy makers around the world in the years ahead. The basket of issues involved in the development of a 21st century Internet are truly daunting and ever evolving, as the Internet ecosystem grows more complex and ubiquitous.

How will the Internet be governed without U.S. involvement?
Though it is essentially an American creation and still largely overseen by the U.S. government, it has always been the plan for the U.S. to turn over the day-to-day management of the technical backbone of the Internet to ICANN, which is an independent, multi-stakeholder institution.

What can business owners do to help?
Call the media; Call elected representatives; Call the Commerce Department. It’s not too late to stop this from happening. We can protect our rights and the future generation’s rights online.


Keith Fletcher is the Chief Operations Officer at Speros. Fletcher has been a C level executive with multinational corporations for the past 30 years. He was also Director of Global Telecommunications and Far East IT for Phillips Van-Heusen.


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