Showing posts with label Internet Neutrality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Internet Neutrality. Show all posts

October 2, 2016

Did The US Give Away The Internet ? It’s Complicated

A judge in Texas has put the kibosh on a last-minute legal attempt to block the controversial decision for the US to give up control of one of the key systems that powers the internet.
It's a move being breathlessly described by some as the US "giving up the internet" to the likes of China, Russia and the Middle East.
It’s the weekend, so if you’re keen to save yourself several hundred words and get on with whatever you like to do with your free time, then here we go: No, the US hasn’t given away the internet. Don’t be absurd.
The long answer, naturally, is more complicated than that - and one mired in mistrust of one of the internet’s key organisations, the detail of which I’ll dig into in a moment.
Let’s start with the basics. 
For starters, while they can take the credit for inventing the underlying technology, the US never “had the internet” to begin with. Nobody did. It’s a, duh, network. Decentralised. That’s what makes it so powerful.
But there are bits of internet infrastructure that some people and governments do have control over, and that’s what this row is all about.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers handles the system for domain namesImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers handles the system for domain names

One of them is the DNS -  Domain Name System. This is the system for looking after web addresses. Thanks to the DNS, when you type, you’re taken to the correct servers for the BBC website. It saves you the grief of having to remember a string of numbers. 
That pairing of names and numbers is kept in one great big master file, the land registry of the web. The only organisation that can make changes is Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
As of Saturday 1 October 2016, Icann will no longer be under US government oversight. 
Instead, it’s now a fully “multi-stakeholder” non-profit that will take on board the views of companies, experts, academics and, yes, nation states, in how the naming system of the web is run.
Here’s a crucial bit: as a user of the internet, you won’t notice any difference whatsoever. And that’s because Icann isn’t a new entity. It’s been doing precisely this job since 1998 before the vast majority of us were even online.
The switch ends a transition that has essentially been in the works for around two decades, removing a dominant power the US had by circumstance rather than intention, and one which was causing friction in the international community.

God of the internet

Back when there were only a handful of websites, a man named Jon Postel - nicknamed “god of the internet” - was in control of DNS.
His task was assigning the easy-to-remember names to those bothersome numbers. It was a crucial step in accelerating the popularity of the world wide web.

The domain name system makes it easier to remember how to access a websiteImage copyrightTHINKSTOCK
Image captionThe domain name system makes it easier to remember how to access a website

When it became clear this was clearly not a job for one man, however godly, a new body was set up to take over the task. They called it the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, IANA.
In 1998, control of IANA was given to the newly-formed Icann. It was given the power over internet naming globally. Experts saw Icann as a good blend of interests and expertise. One which they felt would keep the internet as open and useful as possible.
One quirk of this set-up, though, was that all the while the US’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the Department of Commerce, kept its final say over what the IANA did.
In short, if Icann did something the US government didn’t like, it could step in and knock it on the head.
With the handover, that power is lost -  though it was very sparingly used.


As with most political tussles in the US, both sides say they are fighting for freedom.
Opponents of the plan, the likes of which include presidential candidate Donald Trump and his former rival Ted Cruz, say giving up the power amounts to handing it over to countries like China and Russia. 
In one hearing, Senator Cruz asked if Icann - an international organisation - was bound by the First Amendment to the US constitution defending freedom of speech. No, came the reply from Icann's chief executive, Goran Marby.

Senator Ted Cruz has spoken out strongly against the handover planImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionSenator Ted Cruz has spoken out strongly against the handover plan

Evidence enough, the senator argued, that by giving Icann complete control over the internet’s naming system, it could use that power to disrupt and censor communications online.
And so this week, at the eleventh hour, district attorneys representing four US states filed a legal challenge in Texas.
They had hoped to argue that the root file, the big directory of domain names and their associated servers, was US government property - and therefore required congressional approval before being "given away". 
In court documents filed on Thursday, they also argued that without US control, well established domains like .gov and .mil (for government and military-related websites, respectively) could be tampered with. 
In other words, a fully independent Icann could not be trusted and may act unpredictably once free of US oversight.
But others, including some of the web’s founding fathers, believe blocking the handover is a far bigger risk to the internet’s long term well-being.

Diplomatic headache

Because if the US didn’t handover its power to Icann, it may have been cornered into doing something far riskier.
Unnerved by US power, many countries, particularly Russia and China, have pushed for the DNS to be looked after by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is part of the UN.
This came to a vote in 2012, but failed. The US, UK, Canada and Australia were the dissenters, refusing to back a new treaty on the grounds it could be abused to affect internet governance, and by extension, content. 

An attempt to give naming control to the UN failed after a vote in 2012Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionAn attempt to give naming control to the UN failed after a vote in 2012

In other words, the four countries were worried by sharing out ownership of the internet’s core systems, more states could act like China and clamp down on internet use on their own countries - and all would be fair under the UN.
The US opposition drew heavy criticism - as it was essentially saying no countries can be trusted to look after the internet. Except the US. That didn’t go down well.
That said, given the US was responsible for creating the internet, it did have a valid argument in taking its time in handing over DNS. But it knew time was running out - ownership of the internet’s naming system was fast becoming a diplomatic headache the US needed to solve sooner rather than later.
The handover to Icann is a compromise that appears to suit the country very nicely, and not just because Icann will remain in Los Angeles.
It has the backing of many influential experts who, to counter the likes of Senator Cruz and Mr Trump, argue those opposed to it simply have no clue what they’re talking about.
On Friday, an amicus brief was filed to the Texas court by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), a group which represents the tech industry en masse. Its president, Dean Garfield, said: “This effort by a small number of attorneys general is misguided and inconsistent with the founding values of the Internet.
“It is an ironic endeavor because the transition will actually keep the internet an open and flourishing engine of innovation and open global communication.”
The judge agreed.
So when it comes to domain names, it's true. The US no longer has the keys to the kingdom. 
But the important thing to remember is: neither does anyone else.


Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC and on Facebook

September 22, 2016

Internet Control Transfer: Putin UN-Like, Ted Cruz US, Obama Ind., Who Won?

Congressional Republicans have recently taken a new hostage in their never-ending stream of threats to shut down the government. This time, their target is the transfer of control of usually unseen clerical functions that keep the internet working. Somehow this arcane transition has become one of the major hurdles to funding the government. So how did we get here?

The story actually started two decades ago when the federal government announced that it would step away from running the technical functions of the internet. Since then the Department of Commerce, under the watch of three Presidents, including administrations of both parties, has been living up to this commitment.

The Obama administration then announced two years ago that it would complete the transition by transferring control of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (or IANA) functions.

These are the functions that allow us to use web addresses rather than long sequences of numbers to find a website — it’s essentially the internet’s phonebook.

The announcement was praised by everyone from the Chamber of Commerce and the Internet Association to public interest groups. But after the administration announced its intention, dictators like Vladimir Putin and his cronies launched a whisper campaign against the U.S.  We could not be trusted, they alleged, to follow through with our plan.

Instead, Putin and other like-minded leaders urged the world to have a governmental body such as the United Nations take control of the internet. They would have more sway over internet policy if the internet was regulated by a global governmental body such as the UN than if we are successful with this transition, and the internet becomes fully managed by a global community of experts, led by private businesses.

Fortunately, most of the world dismissed these accusations, choosing instead to believe in the honesty of the United States.  A governmental power grab was not necessary.  The administration’s plan was better than the risk posed by more Russian control of the internet’s functions.
But some fringe American politicians, led by Senator Ted Cruz, saw the transition as an opportunity to undermine the President.  Despite the widespread support for the transfer, they are trying to block it.

As the election approaches, their claims are becoming more outlandish—the transfer would lead to a loss of free speech online (it won’t); it risks national security (it doesn’t); it is against federal law (it’s not).

Most outlandish of all, these Republicans claim that the U.S. is ceding ownership of the internet to the international community.  But the U.S. does not own the internet.  It never has.  In fact, the transition protects the internet from authoritarian control.

This is not just our opinion, as members of Congress who have held hearings on the IANA transition.  Nearly every technical expert agrees that Senator Cruz’s claims are simply not true.  As the professionals explain, administration of the domain name system is clerical and has nothing to do with manipulating content.

Republicans claim that the U.S. is ceding ownership of the internet to the international community. But the U.S. does not own the internet. It never has.

As Assistant Commerce Secretary Larry Strickling recently testified, the Senator’s claims just don’t comport with the facts.

Until recently, Senator Cruz’s crusade has been a lonely one—nearly all of Congress from both parties saw through his over-the-top assertions.  Congress held a nearly unified front against his attempts to upend the transfer.

But this political season, anything can happen.  During this month’s budget negotiations, Republican leadership took an about-face and is now threatening to fulfill Putin’s Prophecy by postponing the transition.  They seem to view a delay as an easy way to mollify their extreme colleagues.  But this cynical trade is not worth the risk—the possible consequences are just too great.

If the Republicans successfully delay the transition, America’s enemies are sure to pounce.  Russia and its allies could push to shift control of the internet’s core functions to a government body like the U.N. where they have more influence.

Moving internet management to a government-led organization would, over time, politicize how the internet functions, allowing foreign governments, for example, to veto free speech online.

If the transition fails, some governments may also try to create a new numbering system, fracturing the internet as we know it.  Such an approach would effectively destroy the “world-wide-web” by creating walled-off pieces of the internet in countries that want to prevent their citizens from communicating with the free world.

Finally, by preventing this transition, we will have failed to keep our long-standing and public commitment to the global community to keep the internet open and free.  In short, delaying this transition is a threat to online freedom, global commerce, and American interests broadly.

We urge our colleagues to give up on this ill-conceived attempt to block the transition.  Now is not the time to walk away from our convictions.  Congress should allow the Department of Commerce to do its job.   It should keep the internet intact, and it should maintain America’s integrity.

Editor’s note: Frank Pallone is a U.S. representative from New Jersey and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Brian Schatz is a U.S. senator from Hawaii and ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet; Anna Eshoo is a U.S. representative from California; Chris Coons is a U.S. senator from Delaware and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts; and Doris Matsui is a U.S. representative from California.

March 25, 2015

Supreme Court in India Stops Internet Arrests


NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Section 66A of Information Technology Act as unconstitutional and struck it down.

This section had been widely misused by police in various states to arrest innocent persons for posing their comments on social network sites on social events and political leaders.

The court said such a law hit at the root of liberty and freedom of expression, two cardinal pillars of democracy. 
The court said the section has to be erased from the law books as it has gone much beyond the reasonable restrictions put by Constitution on freedom of speech.

The court, however, allowed the government to block websites if their contents had the potential to create communal disturbance, social disorder or affect India's relationship with other countries.

The SC delivered its judgment on a bunch of petitions filed in the light of misuse of the penal provision by government authorities against persons who allegedly uploaded offensive posts on social networking sites.

The petitioners, including NGOs, civil rights groups and a law student, had argued that Section 66A violated citizens' fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.

The government had opposed the plea for quashing the provision saying it is meant to deter people from uploading grossly offensive material which can lead to lawlessness by inciting public anger and violence.

Justifying the retention of the provision, the Centre had told the apex court that the impact of internet is much wider and restriction on this medium should be higher in comparison to print and TV.

It had said unlike print and electronic media, internet did not operate in an institutional form and there was need for some mechanism to put checks and balances. The government had said the provision could not be quashed just because of its potential misuse. Posting pictures and comments on social networking sites which hurt religious sentiments could not be tolerated and people must be prosecuted, it said. 

India Times

February 28, 2015

Streaming Internet Should Flow like water: FCC “Internet a Utility Now”

After almost a year of fierce national debate, the Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to pass net neutrality in a 3-to-2 partisan vote. The five-member commission “reclassified” broadband Internet access as a “common carrier” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, making the Internet a regulated utility like water or electricity.
The new rules aim to ensure that Internet service providers (ISPs) cannot discriminate between content-makers by blocking or deliberately slowing some content while offering prioritization for those willing or able to pay. Mobile data service for smartphones and tablets also are being placed under the new rules. The directive also includes requirements to protect consumer privacy and to ensure Internet service is available for people with disabilities and in remote areas.
Critics of the rules say they may hinder innovation and investment. Opponents have said they plan to challenge the FCC order in court. But Republicans on Capitol Hill announced Tuesday that they do not plan to pass a legislative response. 
Recommended: How much do you know about cybersecurity? Take our quiz.
Net neutrality, or an open Internet, is the concept that ISPs should give consumers equal access to all legal content and applications. That means ISPs could not favor or block some content-makers or charge them to provide faster delivery of their content, in what are known as “fast lanes.” ISPs would also be forbidden from slowing the content of competing providers.Supporters of net neutrality say the Internet has become a human right that should be equally accessible for everyone. Denying access or giving preferential treatment to one user over another is thus considered a violation of the user’s rights.
"The Internet, which was once a luxury, is now a necessity, and it has given people the ability to be heard in our democracy and have more opportunity in our economy," Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange, an online civil rights organization, was quoted as saying in USA Today. "It has been a tool for the little guy to get ahead."
Proponents of net neutrality say that without the new rules, smaller content providers unable to pay hefty fees to ISPs would be pushed out and made more difficult to access.
“No one should have to ask permission to innovate, and we need to retain the ability of all Internet users to communicate and compete on a level playing field, preventing the presence of fast and slow lanes that are contrary to the essence of the Internet,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D) of Massachusetts said in a statement.
Many larger Internet companies such as Netflix and Amazon, both of whose streaming services use large amounts of bandwidth, support the idea of net neutrality. Google and Twitter also are supporters.
"More than 30 percent of Internet traffic at peak times comes from Netflix, according to studies. So Verizon might say, 'Netflix, you need to pay us more,' " NPR’s Laura Sydell explains. "Or maybe Verizon strikes a deal with Amazon and says your prime video service can get speedier delivery to the home and we're going to slow down Netflix.”
If companies are asked to pay more, consumers may be asked to foot the bill, observers say.
But those who oppose net neutrality say it is an issue of free enterprise: Service providers should be free to decide how they deliver content and charge customers for their services. They also claim that net neutrality will prevent ISPs from making network upgrades and finding new business models.
“The last thing we should want is President Obama or a government agency picking winners and losers on the Internet. And enforcing net neutrality is picking winners and losers even if it looks like it is just ‘leveling the playing field.' He may think it is not, but it completely blocks certain business models and stops any possible innovation that might emerge if given the option of seeking differential access to bandwidth,” writes Jeffrey Dorfmanin Forbes.
“ 'Net Neutrality' is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of the government,” wrote Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a tweet last November.
Furthermore, more than just the Internet is at stake, some say.
“Advocates for pay-TV providers are saying the FCC should use Section 706 to act more aggressively against the companies that produce TV content. Why? Because the pay-TV providers think the content producers are charging them too much for programming – and because programming costs eat into the budget for building, say, cable broadband,” writes Brian Fung in The Washington Post.
If the FCC decides to pursue this line of logic, it could affect how much consumers pay for cable providers, too.
What every side does agree on, though, is that the results of today’s vote will affect everyone who uses the Internet. Anyone who goes online does so through an ISP, and increasingly these companies are lobbying to provide services on their own terms. Without net neutrality rules, companies like Comcast and Verizon could cherry pick which content is easy to access. And that means that consumer access to specific online content could slow down or speed up noticeably.
For anyone who uses the Internet, around 87 percent of Americans, today’s vote is a really big deal.                            

November 17, 2014

Most Americans Support Net neutrality but Wary of New Gov. rules


The overwhelming majority of Americans support net neutrality rules, but are wary of more federal regulation of internet service providers

This week a growing rift between the Obama administration and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) emerged on the fraught topic of net neutrality. The president came out strongly in favor of a change in the rules that would see internet service providers (ISPs) regulated like telephone companies, who are not allowed to prioritize certain customers' calls over others. Currently, ISPs are allowed to charge websites to prioritize their data, and in turn restrict the speeds of others, to ensure that customers do not experience slow speeds on their sites. While legal it is controversial and rare, and the first such deal was only struck in February this year between Comcast and Netflix.
YouGov's latest research shows that when Americans are asked whether ISPs should be prohibited from restricting the speed of certain content or if they should be allowed to prioritize some content over others, the overwhelming majority of Americans (77%) say that ISPs should be prohibited from restricting speeds. Only 23% say that ISPs should be allowed to prioritize certain data traffic. Support for prohibiting restrictions or prioritization of certain data, is highest among Democrats (80%) and lowest among Republicans (70%). 
Despite this, however, when Americans are asked whether internet service providers should be subject to more regulation by the federal goverment, only 19% of Americans agree. 33% say that the current level of regulation is about right, while 27% think there should be less federal regulation. If the FCC were to regulate ISPs like phone companies, they would be subject to far stricter federal oversight. 
At the moment Americans narrowly tend to say that their internet service providers are giving them good value for money. 47% say that they get good value for money from their ISP, while 38% say that they don't. Republicans are overall the most likely demographic to say that they get good value for money from their ISP (59%), while Democrats (45%) are the second least likely after over-65s and people living in the Northeast (44%). 
Full poll results can be found here and here.

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