Why the Internet isn’t Just Free Yet?

Free internet availed would help in communication and knowledge despite the fact that it is not insulated from abuse. Various efforts have been made by institutions and governments across the world to make the internet easily available for their customers and citizens. The ICANN is one such apex institutions which monitors the internet in manifold ways.

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)

What is ICANN?

  • The U.S.-based body that runs the Internet’s central directory and coordinates its key technical functions.

What is the issue with the existing ICANN governance Currently, ICANN is basically a contractor carrying out some tasks, of which the substantive authority vests with the U.S. government.

  • There exists a proposal currently around finalisation for ICANN’s oversight moving from the U.S. government to a multistakeholder group.
  • Since this group elects ICANN’s board of directors in the first place, it can be said that ICANN will now be an independent organisation, with no external oversight.
  • The multistakeholder ICANN community consists of some sub-groups each with different technical governance roles, and different kinds of openness to non-members.
  • This ‘community’ is essentially a few hundred people at the most, with steep power gradations within it.
  • There exists a strong in-group culture and ideology, and various kinds of meritocracies.
  • This has meant that the group is dominated by the industry, which can pay for participants of ‘high quality’, with staying power and who are well-versed in the U.S. corporate s
  • Democracy and representation in this group for other members would be minimal.
  • ICANN’s board comes from mostly U.S.-based industry and some from Europe  plus co-optation of  largely a few elite groups from other countries  and now its oversight is to be internalised within the same group.

What Is the Controversy

  • The multistakeholder ICANN ‘community’ remains most interested to have power fully transferred to itself, even if within U.S.’s jurisdictional oversight, rather than go by larger global public interest concerns.
  • It is feared that before the U.S. government accepts the transition proposal it will put in further safeguards against jurisdiction changes, possible as a fundamental by-law for ICANN which is very difficult to change. Or it could bring in a specific legislation in this regard, or threaten one in case such a thing is ever attempted. This will nullify all or any gain from the transition process.
  • ICANN’s oversight will shift to a somewhat largish group that in the first place elects the board, and has a narrow base. It is feared that the concerned industry’s narrow interests will entirely take over, with no restraints.
  • Butwith an independent status finally settled, ICANN and its inbred community is likely to get much more unabashed in its narrow self-interest-based and commercial pursuits, disregarding global public interest.
  • What ICANN needs, therefore, apart from coming under international jurisdiction, is some kind of external oversight, which, however, need not be of governments.

The way forward

  • Post transition, non-U.S. actors cannot unilaterally interfere with the ICANN’s policy process, and the Internet’s root server (containing the authoritative root zone file) with a direct fiat to ICANN.
  • The numerous judicial, executive and legislative powers held by the U.S. government over ICANN as an American organisation remain unchanged.
  • It is exceptional situations that remain a problem area.
  • The U.S. President has various kinds of emergency powers regarding key infrastructure, which is likely to extend to ICANN and the root server.
  • Then there is the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which has seized foreign assets in the U.S. on the flimsiest of geopolitical grounds.
  • A country’s domain name, like .in, in the root server can be considered as its asset inside the U.S.
  • It is also possible that the Federal Communications Commission, having recently declared Internet service as a public utility, might at will seek jurisdiction over ICANN-managed critical Internet resources.
  • And, of course, the U.S. legislature can make any kind of law affecting any aspect of ICANN and the root server.
  • The greatest likelihood of the U.S. government’s interference comes from the judiciary.

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