Less than a month after announcing its plan to abandon U.S. protection of the open Internet in 2015, the White House has stepped back from the abyss. Following objections by Bill Clinton, a warning letter from 35 Republican senators, and critical congressional hearings, the administration now says the change won’t happen for years, if ever.
“We can extend the contract for up to four years,” Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling told Congress last week, referring to the agreement under which the U.S. retains ultimate control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as Icann. If the administration makes good on that reassurance, it would punt the decision to 2019 and the next president.
Mr. Strickling originally linked the end of U.S. control to the September 2015 expiration date of the current Icann agreement. He backtracked at a Hudson Institute conference last week: “We did not intend that to be a deadline after which ‘bad things’ would happen. There has been some misapprehension that we were trying to impose a deadline on this process. We weren’t.” Fadi Chehade, Icann’s CEO, agreed. “There is no deadline,” he said. “The U.S. has many years on the contract.”
In an interview, Mr. Chehade assured me that he understands why supporters of the open Internet want the U.S. to retain its oversight role, which keeps countries like Russia and China from meddling. “I’m worried, too,” he said. “There’s no question that governments like power and certain governments will always try to take control of the Internet, so we will have to be careful.”