John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Will ICANN Turn Into ICAN’T?

Posted on October 14, 2014

"Pm-map". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Two weeks after Germany declared war on Russia to start the First World War, the Panama Canal was completed by the Americans.

For thirteen years, in the last 19th century, the French had been the ones who tried to forge a huge short-cut in Central America, but they finally gave up by 1894, exhausted by disease and bankrupted by the effort.

The French were trying to overcome the embarrassment of getting their heads handed to them in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, but they just couldn’t quite finish the job.

Under the leadership of Teddy Roosevelt, it was the United States who picked up the baton and finished the race.

It was a bit of historical irony that just as the Americans proved their worth by completing the Canal, Europe was engulfed in a global conflict that would eventually rob it of the vitality of a whole generation of young men.

The killing fields in Flanders didn’t just squash out the dreams of millions of young soldiers.  It also ushered in despair, nihilism and a deep depression that Europe has never fully recovered from.

Upon completing the Panama Canal, the Americans then rushed in to save Europe from themselves.  For the next 6 decades, they would own and operated that short-cut, making the world a bit smaller and making commerce cheaper and safer.

The Panama Canal would continue be a symbol of American strength.

It was in a period of weakness that that symbol would be bargained away.

Negotiations to return the Panama Canal to the Panamanians started in 1974, just as Richard Nixon was getting ready to resign in disgrace or face impeachment charges for the Watergate burglary.

Jimmy Carter would eventually sign the Treaty that would eventually lead, in 1999, the Canal, which was built by American treasure and America, to be given as a gift to the people of Panama.

At roughly the same time that we were giving the Canal back to the Panamanians, we were starting an organization that helped to usher in the brave new world of cyber-commerce.

ICANN first contracted with the US Department of Commerce to give some structure to the Internet.  ICANN stands for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

That’s the place where you get your website domain name.

And since 1998, it has been an American operation.

America runs these things because, well, we have a reputation for fairness.

Imagine, for a moment, if the thugs in Moscow ran the Internet or the thieves in Beijing.  Imagine if the French, bless their hearts, had the power to dictate domain names.

It’s unimaginable.

And yet, the Obama Administration, is getting ready to give up control of ICANN to a “wider  group of stakeholders.”

Here is what Business Insider is saying about this new development:
“The head of the private agency entrusted with running the Internet has said that the group is on course to break free of US oversight late next year.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) chief Fadi Chehade expressed his confidence in the move during a press briefing at the opening of the nonprofit organization's meeting this week in Los Angeles.

"ICANN is in a very solid, confident place today," Chehade said of its readiness for a 'post US-government role' in charge of the Internet addressing system.

The timeline for the shift is months rather than years, according to Chehade.

While cautioning that there was no strict deadline, he said that substantial progress has been made toward ICANN being answerable to a diverse, global group of "stakeholders" and not the just the US government, as has long been the case.

The US government in March of this year announced that it is open to not renewing a contract with ICANN that expires in about 11 months, provided a new oversight system is in place that represents the spectrum of interests and can be counted on to keep the Internet addressing structure reliable.

ICANN plans to hand a proposal fitting the bill to the US Department of Commerce next year.

"If the US government is satisfied, they would not renew the contract," Chehade said.

"There are many people in the community who would like to see we not renew the contract past 2015."

If US officials are unhappy with the proposal, the contract could be renewed for a short period to allow time for it to be revised.

- Grabs for control -


As the US steps back from overseeing ICANN, states and corporations are grabbing for the reins.

ICANN has gone from being behind the scenes tending to the task of managing website addresses to being center stage in a play for power on the Internet.

"Governments want to exert control over the sweeping transnational power of the Internet that is effecting their policies, politics, social fabric and/or their economic conditions," Chehade told AFP just days before the group gathered in Los Angeles to tackle an array of hot issues.

"The other groups are large corporations concerned about security issues," he continued while discussing forces striving for influence over the organization.

"Therefore, they are stepping in with force to figure out how to reduce potential harm to customers and to their businesses."

Governance of the Internet will be a high-profile topic at the ICANN 51 meeting that will continue through October 16 in Los Angeles.

US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker addressed the gathering on Monday, affirming support for ICANN being accountable to the "global multistakeholder community"  and not to any single organization.”

Why is that when liberal Presidents get into office, the first thing they try to do is shed key strategic assets that help America maintain a dominant role in the world economy?

Let’s hope that ICANN doesn’t turn into I Can’t when these new stakeholders get a hold of it.

We have been lucky that turning over the Panama Canal hasn’t yielded any lasting ill-effects (although we did have to depose a dictator there just to make certain of its safety).