The End of the Web as We Know It


The Hollywood community has been shaken in recent years by the sudden growth of Internet streaming services that offer a fresh and ample assortment of TV shows, movies, music, and the like, all available to a growing group of digital entertainment consumers.

Entertainment audiences have been living in an on-demand universe, one in which they are free to choose from a wide variety of materials that are available any time of the day or night at the touch of a screen.

In a similar vein, at a time in history when the public is highly skeptical of mainstream news media reporting, the web, via video streaming and by other means, has been delivering limitless quantities of news and information from various ideological, political, and cultural perspectives.

Especially appealing to digital participants is the fact that entertainment immersion, idea exchange, and social interaction have mostly been able to be engaged in on the web free from the constraints of governmental interference, bureaucratic regulations, and agenda-laden practices.

With this in mind, it is puzzling and more than a tad disturbing that the Obama administration would consider giving away U.S. control over a significant component of the of the Internet’s governance.

Yet this is exactly what has happened.

Despite the filing of a lawsuit by attorneys general from four states, congressional opposition led by former GOP presidential candidate and current U.S. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and a torrent of public outcry, the executive branch just handed over control to an international group a key system that powers the World Wide Web.

Attorneys general from Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Texas filed a federal lawsuit that sought to block the federal government from surrendering control over the administration of domain names and Internet addresses for the web. However, due to a recent ruling by a federal district judge, the attempt to put the legal brakes on the giveaway was unsuccessful.

In order to understand the entities involved in the segment of the web over which the U.S. has relinquished power, it is important to become familiar with some of the acronyms that are being bandied about.

The primary entity is called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN, a California-based nonprofit body, manages and administers the database containing domain names and numeric addresses that allow computers to connect to one another.

ICANN handles the core addressing system of the Internet through its domain name system (DNS) via a subsidiary, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is part of the Commerce Department of the United States, has up until the present maintained control and authority over ICANN, and therefore over any changes made to DNS servers via IANA.

Everything is different now. The Obama administration transferred the power of stewardship as well as the control of the Internet’s naming system to an unaccountable international “multi-stakeholder” group.

This decision was virtually stuffed down the public’s throat, despite numerous questions having gone unanswered including how ICANN will function as an independent global entity and whether antitrust and consumer protection laws will be capable of deterring ICANN from any unlawful restrictions on free expression.

In a statement to the press, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump indicated his strong disagreement with terminating U.S. authority over ICANN. The statement read as follows: “The U.S. created, developed and expanded the internet across the globe. U.S. oversight has kept the internet free and open without government censorship — a fundamental American value rooted in our Constitution’s Free Speech clause.”

The truth is ICANN is the single most powerful digital institution in the world. It has the ability to profoundly affect the economy, digital expressions, and communications around the globe. The entity controls over 300 million domain names, a staggering number of digital identifiers that continues to increase at a geometric rate.

It will be necessary for ICANN to be run by a state agency in order to retain its antitrust exemption, and the UN appears to be the designated body that is first in line to assume responsibility.

Authoritarian regimes have consistently been advocating for ICANN to become an official part of the UN, and it is likely that despots the world over will ultimately get their wish.

The tremendous freedom on the web to which users have become accustomed exists in great part because ICANN has been located in the U.S. and under our nation’s control. So why would the federal government transfer what is significant geopolitical power to a global organization?

The same First Amendment rights that are cherished by individuals, news organizations, and entertainment concerns are in no way embraced by the vast majority of the rest of the world, particularly by countries such as Iran, China, and Russia. These are jurisdictions that have no qualms with censorship of the Internet or the muzzling of online speech.

After the transfer of Internet power has been fully implemented, people in their everyday personal use of the web may be slow to recognize the changes that have taken place, but unfortunately the die will already have been cast.

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