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Preserving a free and open internet (why the IANA transition must move forward)

The Internet community is about to take an important step to protect the Internet for generations to come.

Over the past several years, an ecosystem of users, civil society experts, academics, governments, and companies has worked to protect the free and open Internet.  These efforts have produced a detailed proposal that will enable the U.S. government to relinquish its contract with a California non-profit called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to perform certain technical functions called IANA, short for the Internet Assigned Names Authority.  IANA essentially maintains the Internet’s address book, which lets you browse the web and communicate with friends without worrying about remembering long strings of numbers or other technical information.

When this proposal takes effect at the end of this month, you won’t notice anything different when you go online, but we are transitioning the IANA functions into good hands.

Why?  Although this is a change in how one technical function of the Internet is governed, it will give innovators and users a greater role in managing the global Internet.  And that’s a very good thing.  The Internet has been built by -- and has thrived because of -- the companies, civil society activists, technologists, and selfless users around the world who recognized the Internet’s power to transform communities and economies.  If we want the Internet to have this life-changing impact on everyone in the world, then we need to make sure that the right people are in a position to drive its future growth.  This proposal does just that.

The proposal will also protect the Internet from those who want to break it into pieces.  Unfortunately, some see the Internet’s incredible power to connect people and ideas around the world as a threat.  For them, the U.S. government’s contract with ICANN proves that governments are the only ones who should play a role in the way the Internet works.  We disagree.

Thinking that only governments should have a say in the Internet’s future is a dangerous proposition.  It incentivizes those who fear the Internet’s transformative power to impose burdensome restrictions online, and over time could even lead some repressive governments to try to build their own closed networks operating independently of ICANN, at the expense of a thriving Internet ecosystem.

The Internet community’s proposal avoids this risk by ensuring that the Internet is governed in a bottom-up way that puts its future in the hands of users and innovators, not authoritarian governments.  That’s why it’s not just engineers and companies, but also civil society and national security experts, who see the proposal as a critical way to protect Internet freedom.

Finally, and importantly, the proposal will fulfill a promise the United States made almost two decades ago: that the Internet could and should be governed by everyone with a stake in its continued growth.  The U.S. government’s contract with ICANN was always supposed to be merely temporary.  In fact, since ICANN was created in 1998, the U.S. government has invited the global Internet community to decide the Internet’s future in a bottom-up fashion.  The community has proven more than up to the task.  The U.S. government’s continued contractual relationship with ICANN is simply no longer necessary.

We’re grateful to have worked with so many stakeholders, including the dedicated officials at the U.S. government who have worked so hard to fulfill the promise made by their predecessors nearly twenty years ago, during this effort to protect one of the greatest engines of economic and social opportunity the world has ever seen.  And because the proposal makes sure that ICANN is more accountable and transparent than ever before, we hope that more people from around the world will take this opportunity to get involved.  The Internet’s future is in all of our hands.

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