That’s all folks. Officials announced on Friday that the US government would surrender control over the internet — or at least the administration of the internet. It’s unclear who will take over the responsibility, but as The Washington Post points out, it will almost surely not be the United Nations.
You’re probably thinking, “Wait a second… the US government had control over the internet?” And you would right to wonder what the heck is going on. After all, the internet by its very definition is a free and open global communication network. Or at least it’s supposed to be.
However, the US government did sort of invent the internet. The internet grew out of a Defence Department project in the 1960s called ARPANET, though the network was really built by many many scientists from around the country and around the world. Nevertheless, for a complicated set of reasons, the US government maintain administrative control over certain parts of how the internet works, specifically through a long-running contract between the Commerce Department and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The latter party is who controls the assigning of internet domains like .com, .org, etc.
Friday’s news is hardly a surprise, though. As you’ve surely noticed, the government’s been taking a lot of flak for spying on seemingly everyone in the entire world and compromising that free-and-open principle pretty hard. Plus — NSA shenanigans aside — the internet really is a tool for the entire world. It’s not very nice of the Americans to maintain control over it, even if its just control over how domains work. “I welcome the beginning of this transition process that you have outlined,” said Fadi Chehade, president of ICANN, in response to the news. “The global community will be included in full.”
So what happens now? Don’t worry. Netflix isn’t going to suddenly shut down this weekend, and you can still register new domains to your heart’s content. What happens now is leaders from around the world will start the conversation and come up with some sort of compromise. Again, the US announcement made it pretty clear that it would not surrender control to the UN. Uncle Sam has never liked that idea. It’s certainly possible that a new international organisation will be created to take over the U.S. government’s responsibilities, but it’s too soon to tell.
So get back to your House of Cards binge. It’s more or less business as usual for the time being. [Washington Post]
The above GIF shows average internet usage over a 24-hour period.