James F. Booth

For more than 25 years, James Booth has provided consulting and legal services to telecommunications carriers and to enterprise companies that manage their own telecommunications networks. Since June of 2009 he has also served as General Counsel of Spread Networks, LLC, which is the industry leader in the construction and operation of low latency high speed networks. Before joining Spread he was General Counsel for OnFiber Communications, a competitive telecommunications provider, and was the sole attorney for Qwest Communications International in support of its construction of an 18,800 mile fiber optic network spanning the United States. Earlier he was lead counsel for U S WEST in its wireless and cable television ventures in the United States, Europe and Hong Kong.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The U.S. Gives Up Its Control of the Free-Speech Internet

Type the domain name Businessweek.com into a browser, and  you reach servers run by Bloomberg Businessweek. This happens whether you’re sitting in Chennai, India, or Kittery, Maine—your computer has consulted a nearby copy of a single, universal list of which names get you to which servers. This largely invisible process is called the Internet’s domain name system, or DNS. It is so important that the guy who first controlled it, Jon Postel of the University of California at Los Angeles, earned the nickname “God.”

God died in 1998, and now the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers manages the domain name system. Icann is a nonprofit with a complex, international governance structure of what it calls “stakeholders,” a group that includes governments, corporations, and civil society activists. But it has operated, ultimately, under a contract from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Although it never exercised this right or even threatened to do so, the U.S. could always still render a website nameless, making it hard to find—essentially kicking it off the Internet.
On Friday, the Department of Commerce announced that next year it would relinquish its last bit of control over domain names. The system will be replaced by a model of global Internet governance as yet to be determined by Icann. All those stakeholders are on their own now. “The Internet technical community is strong enough to continue its role,” said Icann, “while assuming the stewardship function as it transitions from the US Government.” In protesting that it is strong enough, Icann is revealing that it may not be.