What Does U.S. Domain Deregulation Mean for the Future of the Internet?

Description: C:\Users\jheitlinger\Downloads\shutterstock_146358713.jpgIn April 2014, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced that the U.S. government is relinquishing its grip on domain name regulation. Some are concerned that U.S. domain deregulation could mean the end of the free and open Internet and the global culture that has taken root in its fertile soil. Instead, they say, the Internet could splinter into isolated national intranets.

Different Internets for Different Counties 

Now that the U.S. will no longer be a regulating authority over the domain names that make up the Internet, some fear various nations will seek to cut off their respective countries from the World Wide Web. Instead of users around the world accessing and sharing information over international sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google, users in countries that choose to censor their Internet experience would no longer have access to international sites.

China and Iran have already implemented censored national intranets that block access to thousands of blacklisted sites. The Great Firewall of China already controls Internet speech within that nation. Iran’s Halal Internet imposes similar restrictions on the nation’s Internet users. The Russian government is currently considering proposals that would allow it to cut off Internet access to the outside world and censor online content within its borders, as well.

Gigi Alford, senior program officer at Washington, D.C.’s Freedom House, an independent human rights watchdog organization, told the Washington Times, “If users in different countries have different experiences of the Internet, then we’re replicating the old analog way of living as a fragmented global community, with all the analog inequalities and restrictions.” Ms. Alford called the prospect a “serious threat” to the open global Internet.

“Wild West” Internet Frustrates Governments

The free global Internet is nothing if not a powerful tool for social and political change. The Internet, and social media in particular, have played a powerful role in recent political events around the world, from the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 to the campaign and re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama. The Internet gives almost everyone equal access to information and the ability to get their voices heard.

That’s a fact that frustrates many world governments, who see the open Internet as a threat to their own political agendas. The fact remains that the global Internet is also a powerful tool for innovation and economic growth. Some nations, like North Korea, suffer economically as a result of cutting themselves off from the wider world. Others, like China, are powerful enough to afford the censorship a national intranet allows.

For some governments, a national intranet may be desirable but not economically feasible. When Turkish communications minister Lutfi Elvan recently announced his plan to remove Turkey from the World Wide Web, the announcement was met with scorn. Critics called him an “idiot” and pointed out that Turkey can’t divorce itself from the Internet without also removing itself from the global economy.

Privacy Concerns a Factor

Other nations, like Germany, want to establish national intranets to protect their citizens from privacy violations like those recently laid at the door of the NSA. In fact, concerns about privacy and surveillance may go a long way towards breaking up the global Internet and, with it, the burgeoning global culture.

With the U.S. loosening its grip on the Internet, nations around the world are considered cutting themselves off from the World Wide Web. Nations that do so could, however, suffer devastating economic effects.