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We Are Protecting the Internet, Not Giving It to the United Nations

Like many foreigners, I follow U.S. politics closely. What happens in Washington, D.C. on trade, economics, foreign policy, and security matters can often have ripple effects across the world. This is also true with respect to internet policy, and like many who work in the internet industry, I am getting increasingly concerned by some of the news coming out of Washington.

I find the rhetoric surrounding the IANA stewardship transition mind-boggling. How is it possible that the IANA transition, a process that will protect the internet from being captured by authoritarian governments, is being presented as a plan for government takeover of the Internet? It reminds me of Orwellian doublespeak where war is peace and freedom is slavery. Only this isn’t fiction and the consequences could be detrimental to the interests of the United States and its closest friends.

The IANA stewardship transition is a crucial step in the evolution of the internet. While some people in Washington would have you believe the opposite, the transition will protect the internet from capture by Russia, China, Iran and others. I fear the transition is being used as a pawn in a play for political gain.

The fact is, no government can take over the internet. To say otherwise is not just misleading, it’s simply untrue. This is not how the internet was designed, and it’s not how the internet works.

The people who actually built the internet—those that know it inside and out—are the ones who worked on the plan to transition oversight from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to a multistakeholder body. They all agree that the plan, which received NTIA’s approval, is in the best way to protect the free and open internet. This plan was not written by governments, and it is not a part of a grand conspiracy to give the internet away to Russia or China. Some of the best and brightest people that help the internet run smoothly, including many Americans, put this plan together with the continued security and stability of the internet in mind.

The IANA stewardship transition has become a distraction from the real fight for internet freedom.

I was in Dubai at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in 2012 when the United States and its allies successfully prevented the United Nations from trying to take control over parts of the technical operations of the internet. Like-minded nations stood side-by-side with their American counterparts again at the United Nations in 2015 when, through the process to review the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society, we were successful in protecting internet freedom. If history tells us anything, it is that this fight will have to be fought again.

Now we’re facing a flurry of activities to block the very action—the IANA stewardship transition—that will continue to allow us to protect the free and open internet.

Blocking or delaying the transition at the eleventh hour can only weaken the U.S. position at forums where authoritarian regimes—Russia, China, Iran, and others—are actively continuing their fight for control over the internet. Some of our allies, the countries that have stood side-by-side with U.S. delegations fending off those authoritarian regimes, may not be there for us when the next fight happens. They have participated in the two-year process to see the transition completed, and for the United States to now halt the process at the eleventh hour puts that support at risk.

The truth is, there are a number of nations who are actively seeking to exert their interests over the internet. Unfortunately, too many people in Washington are putting politics ahead of protecting it. This IANA stewardship transition process must be allowed to proceed as planned. We need to let the contract between the NTIA and ICANN expire, and let the multistakeholder community carry on. A free and open internet depends on it.

This post was originally published on Council of Foreign Relations.

By Byron Holland, President and CEO of CIRA

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