When the Obama administration announced its plan to give up U.S. protection of the internet, it promised the United Nations would never take control. But because of the administration’s naiveté or arrogance, U.N. control is the likely result if the U.S. gives up internet stewardship as planned at midnight on Sept. 30.
On Friday Americans for Limited Government received a response to its Freedom of Information Act request for “all records relating to legal and policy analysis . . . concerning antitrust issues for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers” if the U.S. gives up oversight. The administration replied it had “conducted a thorough search for responsive records within its possession and control and found no records responsive to your request.”
It’s shocking the administration admits it has no plan for how Icann retains its antitrust exemption. The reason Icann can operate the entire World Wide Web root zone is that it has the status of a legal monopolist, stemming from its contract with the Commerce Department that makes Icann an “instrumentality” of government.
Antitrust rules don’t apply to governments or organizations operating under government control. In a 1999 case, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the monopoly on internet domains because the Commerce Department had set “explicit terms” of the contract relating to the “government’s policies regarding the proper administration” of the domain system.
Without the U.S. contract, Icann would seek to be overseen by another governmental group so as to keep its antitrust exemption. Authoritarian regimes have already proposed Icann become part of the U.N. to make it easier for them to censor the internet globally. So much for the Obama pledge that the U.S. would never be replaced by a “government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution.”
Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, called it “simply stunning” that the “politically blinded Obama administration missed the obvious point that Icann loses its antitrust shield should the government relinquish control.”
The administration might not have considered the antitrust issue, which would have been naive. Or perhaps in its arrogance the administration knew all along Icann would lose its antitrust immunity and look to the U.N. as an alternative. Congress could have voted to give Icann an antitrust exemption, but the internet giveaway plan is too flawed for legislative approval.
As the administration spent the past two years preparing to give up the contract with Icann, it also stopped actively overseeing the group. That allowed Icann to abuse its monopoly over internet domains, which earns it hundreds of millions of dollars a year.