In a historic move last month, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that it would not renew its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is set to expire on September 30, 2015. With this announcement, NTIA is transitioning its limited role in overseeing the Domain Name System (DNS) and other critical functions of the Internet, the last step in handing over Internet oversight from governmental to global control. In the statement, NTIA called on ICANN to work with the global Internet community in establishing a multi-stakeholder model that would overtake Internet oversight, emphasizing the importance of a solution with little control by a governmental entity or inter-governmental organization. Ambadassor David Gross, former U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy welcomed the transition, stating that
“By allowing for the careful transition of the IANA to a bottom-up multistakeholder entity, the United States has affirmed its commitment to the multistakeholder model. If the principles NTIA identified for the transition are met – which is a critical condition for this process to work – the United States will also succeed in maintaining the freedom, openness, security, and stability of the network we have all enjoyed since its inception.”
Within the tech industry, the U.S. was commended for taking a critical step in the evolution of a free and open Internet. Telecommunications provider AT&T stated that the “NTIA has made this initiative at the right time. It has provided a blueprint for how the multistakeholder community can further internationalize the governance of the Internet, while critically preserving the security, stability and dynamism that we all require.” Network provider Cisco stated that NTIA’s move is “based upon the recognition that the ecosystem of organizations, groups and individuals which make up the multi-stakeholder Internet governance community is mature and robust and can stand on its own.” Others have expressed concerns over what tomorrow’s Internet will look like without U.S. oversight, including House Energy and Commerce leaders Fred Upton and Greg Walden fearing that the multi-stakeholder model would open up doors for authoritative regimes to expand their control. This sentiment is also shared by former president Bill Clinton who expressed concerns over loss of Internet freedom during a recent panel by the Clinton Global Initiative. (Click here to watch 4/2/14 House Energy and Commerce meeting about the DOTCOM Act.)
It is too soon to make assumptions about what the multistakeholder model overseeing the Internet will look like. Without a doubt, the leadership over tomorrow’s Internet will have significant implications for the online visibility of the LGBT community. Recent news about governments severing LGBT-related content have taught us how easily repressive governments can censor LGBT-related information. In Russia, the social networking site Children 404, a website catering to LGBT youth, may soon become the latest victim to the country’s archaic “gay propaganda” law. In Turkey, online users are no longer able to access the gay dating app Grindr. While these examples show the dark side of Internet governance, we should also take this moment of change to reflect upon the opportunities for strengthening LGBT visibility. In its statement, the NTIA is clearly envisioning an expansion of the multistakeholder model rather than governmental control. Like a free and open society, a free and open Internet depends on governance that represents the diverse needs and perspectives of the global community. More than ever, LGBT and other human rights organizations need to make sure that their voices are being heard in decisions concerning Internet governance. It is our responsibility to highlight violations against the global visibility of our community and to work closely with governmental representatives, engineers and tech companies in coming up with solutions for a safe online environment. This way, we may come a step closer to an Internet that represents the needs of diverse LGBT communities.