Toward a Post-Government Internet

by on March 17, 2014 · 2 comments

The Internet began as a U.S. military project. For two decades, the government restricted access to the network to government, academic, and other authorized non-commercial use. In 1989, the U.S. gave up control—it allowed private, commercial use of the Internet, a decision that allowed it to flourish and grow as few could imagine at the time.

Late Friday, the NTIA announced its intent to give up the last vestiges of its control over the Internet, the last real evidence that it began as a government experiment. Control of the Domain Name System’s (DNS’s) Root Zone File has remained with the agency despite the creation of ICANN in 1998 to perform the other high-level domain name functions, called the IANA functions.

The NTIA announcement is not a huge surprise. The U.S. government has always said it eventually planned to devolve IANA oversight, albeit with lapsed deadlines and changes of course along the way.

The U.S. giving up control over the Root Zone File is a step toward a world in which governments no longer assert oversight over the technology of communication. Just as freedom of the printing press was important to the founding generation in America, an unfettered Internet is essential to our right to unimpeded communication. I am heartened to see that the U.S. will not consider any proposal that involves IANA oversight by an intergovernmental body.

Relatedly, next month’s global multistakeholder meeting in Brazil will consider principles and roadmaps for the future of Internet governance. I have made two contributions to the meeting, a set of proposed high-level principles that would limit the involvement of governments in Internet governance to facilitating participation by their nationals, and a proposal to support experimentation in peer-to-peer domain name systems. I view these proposals as related: the first keeps governments away from Internet governance and the second provides a check against ICANN simply becoming another government in control of the Internet.

  • sflicht

    Hey Eli,

    Have you done (or considered doing) an in-depth piece on “neutrality”-type legislation? In general, I’m quite skeptical about the premise, partly on the basis of what I believe is informed commentary by tech-savvy lawyers. (It’s been discussed several times on TWiL:, for example.) Such commentators raise the obvious objections: the pro-neutrality camp seems to presume that regulation will lead to a superior outcome, are insensitive to issues of regulatory capture, etc. I have a hard time getting up in arms about things like big bandwidth users (Netflix) paying the proprietors of the pipes (Comcast, etc.) for improved service, or vice versa, about primary network owners charging for bandwidth in a manner responsive to their own business interests. It just seems like the logical outcome. On the other hand, there are certainly smart people on the other side (Tim Wu, of course), and indeed it seems to be an article of faith among tech pundits (e.g. the Verge’s staff) that this sort of thing will “ruin the internet”.

    I think the intelligent case in favor of net neutrality probably centers around “chokepoints” and the risk of future debilitating legislation (SOPA, PIPA, etc). Although logically independent of questions concerning internet governance and FTC regulation of ISPs, legislative intellectual property concern-trolling might indeed be more of a problem under certain regulatory regimes than under others.

    So, what’s the definitive Dourado take on the question?

  • Eli Dourado

    I haven’t written anything lengthy on net neutrality, but like others here at the TLF, I oppose net neutrality regulations. To the extent that there is any problem with ISPs “abusing” their position, I think it should be addressed by changing local regulations so as to reduce the cost of rolling out new ISPs.

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