For more than two billion people around the world, the Internet is an indispensable part of daily life. Over the last five years, information created and shared online has increased nine-fold.i By 2015, the Internet will connect one trillion devices.ii
One, open Internet offers enormous value -- social networks now reach 80 percent of global users, for example, and the Internet economy will reach $4.2 trillion worldwide by 2016.iii But it also raises challenges. As the Internet expands, we must ensure that it continues to be a platform for choice and competition, drives innovation and infuses development across the globe.
On Friday, March 14, 2014 the U.S. Government reinforced those ideals, announcing its intention to transition stewardship over some vital technical functions of the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS) to the global community -- functions which ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, has managed for more than 15 years.
Unfortunately, some critics of the announcement have begun to speculate and report a number of inaccuracies as fact. Let me set the record straight.
1. The announcement does NOT mean the United States is surrendering control of the Internet to Russia, China nor to any other country or government-led organization.
The U.S. Government asked ICANN to initiate an inclusive, global discussion with clear caveats -- the United States will "not accept a proposal that replaces the [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] NTIA role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution."
Governments will have a voice in determining the mechanism by which ICANN will be held accountable as it continues to perform these technical functions, but so will numerous other stakeholders.
In the U.S. alone, these "others" will include familiar names such as Microsoft, AT&T, Cisco, Verizon, Facebook and Google; business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Computer and Communications Industry Association and Motion Picture Association of America; civil society groups such as Public Knowledge, and scholars at The Brookings Institute, Hudson Institute and American University. All of these organizations vocally support the move to a multistakeholder model, and are wholeheartedly committed to ensuring it advances Internet freedom.
Neither the United States nor the global community will allow authoritarian control of the global Internet.
2. The announcement will NOT allow any one authority to dictate how the Internet functions in America.
The U.S. Government has envisioned the transfer of its stewardship over "unique identifiers" in the DNS since 1998. Meanwhile, ICANN has helped protect the open Internet as it has grown from 147 million users to more than 2.7 billion since ICANN's inception.iv
ICANN has performed its technical coordination functions with increasing independence and operational excellence while subject to global multistakeholder accountability. During its stewardship, the U.S. Government itself has never interfered with this model, or "controlled" the Internet. It certainly will not permit others to do so.
ICANN cannot enact global Internet censorship and, under no scenario, will it have the ability or authority to do so in the future.
3. The announcement will NOT limit the free access enjoyed by the billions who use the Internet every day.
Every day users of the Internet will not be at all affected by the transition. ICANN has performed flawlessly and autonomously in its technical coordination mandate through a multistakeholder process and will continue to do so going forward.
In reality, the transition of stewardship to a global multistakeholder mechanism is an evolutionary, not revolutionary, process -- one that will only advance the Internet's value.
4. The announcement will NOT lead to a division of the Internet into smaller, splintered, less technically resilient pieces.
The March 14 announcement is an important step towards preventing the Internet's fragmentation -- and provides a clear path for protecting its openness. ICANN is experienced and well positioned to maintain the stability, security and openness of the domain name system at the heart of the Internet.
5. The announcement is NOT the final decision. Without an acceptable proposal, the U.S. will NOT transition stewardship.
The U.S. Government has made clear that it will "not accept" a plan that does not maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet Domain Name System and one that is defined by the openness of the Internet. If necessary, the U.S. can maintain its current stewardship role by extending its contract with ICANN, until the global multistakeholder community creates a proposal that meets America's conditions.
The U.S. Government and ICANN are confident that a global, multistakeholder-based solution will be reached. ICANN has operated under such a model for more than fifteen years and is prepared to lead an inclusive and productive dialogue to ensure a transition informed by one clear objective: keeping the Internet open and unified.
I encourage everyone who's interested to get involved, to participate in this global multistakeholder community -- and crucially to understand the facts -- not the myths -- about this transition.
Fadi Chehadé is President and CEO of ICANN. His career has been defined by building consensus and promoting collaborative technologies and practices. He has more than 25 years of experience in building and leading progressive Internet enterprises, leveraging relationships with senior executives and government officials across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States.
Chehadé is a graduate of Stanford University, where he earned a master's degree in Engineering Management, and Polytechnic University in New York, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree in computer science.