Access Denied! Why You Should Care about Net Neutrality

This article was originally featured on the Truman National Security Project’s Doctrine Blog on April 26, 2017.

If you get frustrated when it takes longer than normal for a site to load or appreciate the freedom to visit the site of your choosing without impediment, you should be watching what happens with net neutrality.

But what is net neutrality? Often referred to as “Open Internet,” net neutrality is the underlying principle of the Internet that internet service providers (ISPs) provide open and consistent access to any application or content that rides over their networks. This prevents ISPs that provide broadband and telecom service, like AT&T and Comcast, from also providing preferential treatment to companies willing and able to pay more for faster speeds. After all, if ISPs aren’t required to maintain consistent connectivity, consumers will likely limit their searches and consumption to sites that load easily.

Net neutrality additionally prevents the ISPs from blocking content of their choosing, which becomes important in that such blocking can put limits on free speech and press. The Internet is often a platform for marginalized voices. Small businesses, people of color, citizens of oppressive regimes, and activists can use the Internet to amplify their otherwise discreet and often silenced messages. Without net neutrality, ISPs could block unpopular speech and prevent dissident voices from speaking freely online. Without net neutrality, we may not know of many of the injustices perpetuated around the world or in our own back yard! On another note, less politically harmful but equally as disruptive, you may not be able to find the business or product you’re looking for or watch the movie of your choosing without an additional fee. Equally alarming, limited access to information and content can also impede competition, therefore potentially manipulating the market.

No matter your economic status, political beliefs, racial identity, sexual orientation, or ISP, you deserve to have the same access to any website you choose to visit. However, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has a draft plan, which he has not presented publicly, that will reportedly severely weaken net neutrality rules for all. Instead of clear rules that require ISPs to treat all data the same, Pai is proposing a voluntary system where providers promise in writing they will not block web pages or slow down traffic. Theoretically, under his plan, as long as ISPs commit to protecting net neutrality in their terms of service, the FCC can eliminate its rules defaulting to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to punish ISPs that do not comply with their net neutrality promises.

This may sound “ok” on the surface, but ISPs would only be bound by net neutrality requirements to the extent they promise to follow them — no standardization or mandatory level of protection. This type of voluntary system leaves too much room for “creativity” on how to make money by manipulating internet traffic or how to silence unwelcomed perspectives. Importantly, this construct would require changes to FTC Act, leaves unclear how consumers would know whether content is being blocked in order to file a claim, and requires claims be tied to consumer harm. Additionally, there isn’t enough competition among telecom and broadband providers to demand compliance. Not to mention, there is little to stop ISPs from removing net neutrality clauses from their terms of service in the future.

Essentially, the greatest attribute of the Internet is its freedom, and the ability to search without restriction or limit is fundamental to such freedom. Rolling back current consumer and competition protections stands in direct opposition to maintaining a free and open internet.

In 2014, citizens and businesses successfully cried out for protection from manipulation of service speeds and paid prioritization. Then FCC Chairman Wheeler released rules, “the Open Internet Order,” one year later. Earlier this month, current FCC Chairman Pai discussed plans for net neutrality with the Internet Association — a lobbying group representing Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other large tech companies — and the organization took to the media to underscore their support for these rules. Internet Association members have made clear they are prepared to fight against any dilution of net neutrality rules. Hopefully, this strong show of support for strong net neutrality will cause Chairman Pai to reimagine his plan.

On the heels of President Trump signing the Congressional resolution to overturn Internet privacy rules — the first sign of an agenda to roll back FCC protections implemented in recent years — Pai’s inclination toward a voluntary framework is a call to vigilance, if not a call to action, for those invested in and enjoying net neutrality.

This week, members of Congress have answered the call by requesting Pai to reveal his net neutrality plans. Democracy and a stable economy demand access to information. Every citizen and business who values the freedom to search the Internet without restrictions and receive all content consistently should lend their voice to preserving net neutrality rules.

View at Medium.com

35 Senators Ask Tough Questions Re: Internet Transition

Today, 35 U.S. Senators lead by Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), seeking clarification regarding the recent announcement that NTIA intends to relinquish responsibility of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions to the global multistakeholder community. Read my previous post “US to Relinquish Control of the Internet” for more background on this issue.

The letter express the group’s “[strong] support [of] the existing bottom-up, multistakeholder approach to Internet governance.” The letter highlights bipartisan support of S. Con. Res 50 in 2012 that reinforces “the U.S. government’s opposition to ceding control of the Internet to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an arm of the United Nations, or to any other governmental body.”

The group cautions: “We must not allow the IANA functions to fall under the control of repressive governments, America’s enemies, or unaccountable bureaucrats.”  To read the full text of the letter click here.

As you read it I encourage you to think about a few things: 

Are these the right questions?

These are fair questions and likely on the minds of those invested in the outcome of this transition. ICANN & NTIA have pledged transparency throughout this process, therefore, I look forward to their candid responses. None of the questions are out of line or beyond the scope of Congressional oversight.

What other questions should we ask?

The answers to these questions will spark additional questions. However, in my opinion, there are a few other questions the Senators could have posed.

  • What happens if the deadline is not met? Is the US prepared to renew the contract? Is the US prepared for the international backlash if the deadline is not met?
  • Does the structure of an organization like ICANN, that has an entire constituency of comprised of government representatives (GAC),  meet the nongovernmental multistakeholder model? To what extent and how are governments going to be kept out of oversight after the initial launch?
  • Whose interests does NTIA seek to serve or protect by initiating this transition?

What other questions do you have?

How hard do you want Congress to push on this issue?

Transparency will help alleviate fears and misconceptions. I think the answers to these questions and those likely to follow with help shape the dialogue as this process continues. Gaining the confidence of the American people and other inter nation critics will serve to make this a smoother process for NTIA and ICANN. I encourage Congress to pursue the answers to these questions and then decisions can be made about how to proceed.

This issue has a long way to go before we can develop a definitive perspective on the positive or negative effect this will have on the future of the Internet.  I will continue to monitor the developments but I encourage you think about what concerns you most and leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

The below are highlights of the questions asked:

  • Please provide us with the Administration’s legal views and analysis on whether the United States Government can transition the IANA functions to another entity without an Act of Congress. 
  • Please explain why it is in our national interest to transition the IANA functions to the “global multistakeholder community.” 
  • Why does the Administration believe now is the appropriate time to begin the transition, and what was the specific circumstance or development that led the Administration to decide to begin the transition now?
  • What steps will NTIA take to ensure the process to develop a transition plan for the IANA functions is open and transparent?
  • Will NTIA actively participate in the global multistakeholder process to develop a transition plan for the IANA functions, or will the Administration leave the process entirely in the hands of ICANN?
  • What specific options are available to NTIA to prevent [a government or inter-governmental solution] from happening?
  • How can the Administration guarantee the multistakeholder organization that succeeds NTIA will not subsequently transfer the IANA functions to a government or intergovernmental organization in the future, or that such successor organization will not eventually fall under the undue influence of other governments?
  • How did NTIA determine that ICANN is the appropriate entity to lead the transition process, and how will NTIA ensure that ICANN does not inappropriately control or influence the process for its own self-interest? 
  • Does NTIA believe ICANN currently is sufficiently transparent and accountable in its activities, or should ICANN adopt additional transparency and accountability requirements as part of the IANA transition? 
  • Is it realistic to expect that an acceptable transition plan can be developed before the IANA functions contract expires on September 30, 2015?  Is there another example of a similar global stakeholder transition plan being developed and approved in just 18 months? 
  • How will NTIA ultimately decide whether a proposed transition plan for IANA, developed by global stakeholders, is acceptable?  What factors will NTIA use to determine if such a proposal supports and enhances the multistakeholder model; maintains the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet Domain Name System; meets the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and maintains the openness of the Internet? 
  • Will NTIA also take into account American values and interests in evaluating a proposed transition plan?  How? 

US to Relinquish Control of the Internet?

On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced it is giving up control of a system that directs Internet traffic and Web addresses. As a result, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit organization charged with managing the Internet, is tasked to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to transition the current role played by NTIA in the coordination of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS). This announcement came as a surprise to many but a coalition of nations has been calling for the US to relinquish control of the Internet for at least the last nine months. Politically this takes the US out of the line of fire but practically what does this do for the culture of the Internet?

Why is this important to you? Because it may change the Internet as you know it….

What exactly was the US Doing?

NTIA is the Executive Branch agency that advises the President on telecommunications and information policy issues. NTIA’s programs and policymaking focus largely on expanding broadband Internet access and adoption in America. NTIA controls the DNS which essentially converts the web addresses (URLs) we type in to the search bar into the correct IP address to retrieve the website you requested. Whether you are accessing a Web site or sending e-mail, your computer uses DNS to look up the domain name you’re trying to access. This system is essential to the functionality and security of the Internet.

If not the US, then who?
This contract to control DNS has allowed the U.S. government to exert what some claim is too much influence over the Internet. technology that plays such a pivotal role in society and the economy. So if not the US, then who with the world feel comfortable wielding that power and influence?

There’s a meeting, ICANN 49, March 23 in Singapore and the future of the Internet is at the top of the agenda.

According to Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary at the Commerce Department, “[The department] will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA’s role with a government-led or intergovernmental solution.” Does that leave ICANN or a similar organization to maintain the DNS?

Why should you care?
Because this could mean a very different Internet…

While companies like Verizon applaud the moveITIF and other organizations have argued before that U.S. government oversight has played an essential role in maintaining the security, stability, and openness of the Internet and in ensuring that ICANN satisfies its responsibilities in effectively managing the Internet’s DNS. Without the U.S. government’s presence some lawmakers and members of the tech industry have expressed concern that relinquishing control of IANA will open up the Internet to threats from other governments that seek to censor it.  This could mean a very different Internet.

Are their concerns justified? No one really knows right now but what we can surmise is that the Internet is in for some changes in the years to follow the change of control. Many countries have dealt with privacy and censorship in ways different from that of the US. How will ICANN deal with these conflicting views democratically and ensure Internet users from all economies and sovereign nations will be represented and heard? Will the standards of openness and free flow of information embraced today remain the baseline? Does the “global multistakeholder community” NTIA is referring to exist? What is the legal jurisdiction for both ICANN and this new multistakeholder body?

There are no answers to these questions because so little is known about whats to come. I look forward to the information and ideas that flow from the ICANN meeting next week.  The questions need to be among those at the top of the list.

Five things you should know as the new gTLDs launch

What is a gTLD? gTLD stands for generic top-level domain and is an Internet extension such as “.COM,” “.NET” or “.ORG.” Right now there are a little over two dozen gTLDs, but soon, there could be hundreds. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for the coordination of the global Internet’s systems of unique identifiers and, in particular, ensuring its stable and secure operation. According to ICANN the new gTLD program was developed to increase competition and choice in the domain name space. As the new gTLDs launch and threaten to change the Internet as we know it there are a lot of things you should know but here are five to start. For additional background information about new gTLDs, please visit some of my previous posts “What do you know about the new top level domains?” & “Will You Be Confused When The New Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) Launch?”

1. Be careful of services “guaranteeing” to get a domain name for you

Cyrus Namazi, Vice President of DNS Industry Engagement for ICANN, published a blog post today titled “Pre-Reserve a Domain Name, or Not? ICANN Answers the QuestionNamazi warns against services that “guarantee” they’ll get the domain name for you:
 
 
As responsible Registrars are advising, successful pre-registration of a domain cannot be guaranteed. ICANN seconds that advice, cautioning that registrants should be wary of anyone who claims to be able to guarantee a domain registration on a new gTLD. There are several situations that can impact the availability of a domain name and some domain names may never be available for purchase.”
 
 
Namazi points out that competition between registrars for a single domain, domains claimed in sunrise, reserved domains, premium domains, and name collision domains make it impossible to guarantee. He also notes that some TLDs may not even end up being delegated.

 

2. The first non-Latin character new gTLDs were delegated 

What does delegated mean? This means that the gTLDs or strings have successfully completed the new gTLD Program and has officially been selected as a new gTLD that will go live for use. This will be the first time non-Latin characters can be used in a TLD and not just in the second level domain. Click here for more information from ICANN. 

One is شبكة, the Arabic word for “web” or “network”, while another is 游戏, which means “game” in Chinese.The other two – онлайн and сайт – are both Russian words, meaning “online” and “website” respectively

3. First nine LATIN new gTLDs​ were delegated

The first nine new gTLDs delegated last week were:

  • .CAMERA
  • .CLOTHING
  • .EQUIPMENT
  • .GURU
  • .HOLDINGS
  • .LIGHTING
  • .SINGLES
  • .VENTURES
  • .VOYAGE

The “sunrise period” for registration of the first seven gTLDs is “.BIKE,” “.CLOTHING,” “.GURU,” “.HOLDINGS,” “.PLUMBING,” “.SINGLES,” “.VENTURES.” will begin November 26 and general availability to anyone will begin January 29, 2014.  Keep any eye out for new gTLDs as they are delegated. Consider whether you or your company wants to purchase a domain. And monitor the official launch of these new gTLDs starting in January. Monitor how your brand and ineffectual property are being used on this new gTLDs. To keep up with delegated strings click here.

4. The launch of new gTLDs multiplies the size of the Internet and presents increased security and intellectual property infringement risks.

  • Pay attention to the gTLD in the address bar. New gTLDs give malicious actors more platforms to attack the unsuspecting. Pay attention to the address you are trying to get to and make sure all parts of the address are correct.  Also if you search for a website make sure the site that comes up is the legitimate website.
  • Companies must monitor the use of their intellectual property on new gTLDs. Companies should currently have a plan in place to protect their IP investments through motoring, preemptive registrations, the Trademark Clearinghouse and other rights protection mechanisms provided by ICANN. Be proactive!

5. Launch of new gTLDs presents a number of opportunities to market your brand or yourself. This will present business and consumers with a new and unique user experience and online footprint. There will be a lot more room for customization online and opportunities for marketers to be creative with how to reach consumers. I am excited to see the innovative means of reaching the public that are birthed from the new gTLD launch.Please ask any questions you have about new gTLDs, protecting yourself, rights mechanisms, IP protection, security concerns etc. Start the discussion!