Last month, news agencies were reporting the Obama Administration’s movement to relinquish some measure of US control over the Internet – namely, ICANN’s oversight of domain names. ICANN is a non-profit company based in California whose contract under the US Commerce Department will expire in 2015. Meanwhile, news agencies have fallen silent on the issue.
So, what will happen? Perhaps the silence in the media represents the shoulder-shrug of unknowing – we just cannot predict what will happen. The US, once the stronghold of free speech, may no longer uphold that value in the international/supernational world of cyberspace. Just in the past few years, foreign governments have taken to cutting feeds from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, for various reasons – possibly to suppress grassroots organizing and mobilizing of oppressed peoples. But, what does ICANN have to do with that? How would ICANN’s withdrawal affect foreign governments’ relationship with the World Wide Web? What would Tim Berners-Lee say? It’s hard to tell at this point.
Newness is upon us already, to some extent. For the first time in years, the web saw new doors open in 2013 when new Top Level Domain names were being issued. You can find .book, .horse, and now, .GOP (yes, the Republican party), among others. It’s not just the familiar .com’s anymore. But will we now move even further? Will we need to have country specific webs? We may need something like “usw,” the United States’ Web, to uphold familiar security and freedoms. Perhaps there will be a “ukw,” for UK Web, “ “euw” for European Union Web, a “chw” for China’s Web, and so forth. Or perhaps the Internet will become a subscription commodity, like our cell phone plans – “Comcast now offers the most websites for $999.99 a month!” Will e-commerce companies be forced to raise their prices so they can buy their way into these multiple webs?
Or maybe Google will create its own version of the web. Why not? Doesn’t a certain retail website behemoth already behave like its own scaled-down version of the World Wide Web? I wonder if we’ll see all kinds of copy-cat versions of the web – even secret Internets that facilitate anti-social agendas. “Pirate radio”? Pffft! Now it’s “pirate web”! On the other hand, perhaps we could create a smaller web – sponsored by Disney and Toys R Us – that will finally be a completely safe cyber-environment for children to use willy-nilly, without worried parents helicoptering over little shoulders.
The prevailing opinion suggests that much of the push on the US to release its control was the EU’s response to knowledge of NSA spying. But, without US oversight, would spying be more prevalent? Won’t the net become more open to international spies, hackers, and ne’er-do-wells? Perhaps what we should have done/should do is promote transparency within ICANN, the US Department of Commerce, and other agencies involved – rather than relinquish control. International legislation needs to hurry to catch up with the progress of new technologies, too, but that also suggests another problem: Why should we think that non-UN (or even non-NATO) countries will comply with current standards of net empowerment and liberalities?
My guess is that some agency of the UN will be created to fill the void. But will the Internet remain the entity we have known it to be for the past two decades? The Panama Canal was completely surrendered in 1999, and that has been cited as an example of a positive move for international commerce. But it moved into the hands of the Panamanian government. The Internet will likely not change hands from the US-based organizations to another specific country’s oversight – I predict a slow decay until a new incarnation appears. My money is on private-sector, satellite-enabled, subscription-based Internet by 2016. There is a lot of speculation here, I admit, but until news agencies and investigative journalists start digging into this, speculation is all we have.