If the Obama administration is serious about its goal to connect every American household to the information superhighway via broadbans, it will have to address America’s perception that, to paraphrase Leonard “Bones” McCoy, “cyberspace is filled with disease and death.” Cyberspace may be perceived as a whole lot colder if the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is allowed to transfer its oversight of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions to a multi-state stakeholder body.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, approximately 15% of Americans do not use the Internet. Thirty-four percent of these holdouts do not find the Internet relevant to them. Thirty-two percent of non-users believe the Internet is not easy to use citing reasons that include physical inability, spam, spyware, and hackers.
Pew also determined that 44% of non-users are 65 years of age or older and this age group makes up 49% of all Internet non-users.
News over the last 24 hours has only made the fear of hacking more pronounced as the “Heartbleed” virus, allegedly lurking in cyberspace pursuant to Dr. McCoy’s fears, became known to the world. With calls for everyone in the known universe to drop what they are doing and change passwords (more work for me to do in addition to a fast approaching tax day deadline), the fifteen percent are probably patting themselves on the back for resisting the pleas to interconnect with the rest of the American Borg collective.
With Heartbleed giving some broadband users a small stroke if not an all out heart attack, at least there is the analgesia that flows from knowing that the U.S. government has our backs in case of any malevolent events. Well, that was the thought last month until the NTIA announced a proposal to transfer its administrative and clerical oversight functions of IANA to a global, multi-state stakeholder body, a plan that has been in the works for years. Pursuant to its contract with the NTIA, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers coordinates the IANA functions. The functions include (1) the coordination of the assignment of technical protocol parameters including the management of the address and routing parameter area (ARPA) top-level domain; (2) the administration of certain responsibilities associated with Internet DNS root zone management such as generic (gTLD) and country code (ccTLD) Top-Level Domains; (3) the allocation of Internet numbering resources; and (4) other services.
Granted, NTIA and ICANN do not regulate content on the Internet nor the app developers and other entities that play on the Internet’s open architecture. The governance model employed by the IANA functions includes participation by hundreds of stakeholders from around the world including Internet service providers, app developers, registrars, commercial and business interests, and representatives from over a hundred governments.
So why bother breaking it? So far my takeaway from the arguments for this transfer of oversight is that NTIA just doesn’t want to be bothered. Although NTIA and ICANN describe their functions as more akin to a reference librarian making sure an updated copy of the phone book is kept behind the desk and that it contains accurate listings for Cairo, Georgia as opposed to Cairo, Egypt, the perception that the U.S. government has some oversight over an American creation can go a long way in creating a good perception.