Lawrence Strickling wants everyone to relax. The Internet will be fine.
That was the overall message Tuesday as Strickling, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, spoke about plans for the United States to transfer its oversight of Web domains to an international consortium as soon as next year.
Strickling, who issued his remarks at an American Enterprise Institute event on Internet governance, said the transition will not fundamentally change the Internet for anyone.
"At the outset, I want to put your minds at ease," Strickling said. "Contrary to some initial concerns that we were giving away the Internet, the response from the global Internet community has been overwhelmingly supportive...The discussions to date demonstrate that the community is taking this transition very seriously and is determined to develop a transition plan that will ensure that the Internet [domain name system] continues to support a growing and innovative Internet."
The remarks come after the NTIA announced in March that it would step away from its role overseeing the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit group responsible for assigning IP addresses and keeping track of top level domain URLs.
"Before any transition takes place, the businesses, civil society and technical experts of the global Internet community must present a consensus plan that ensures the uninterrupted and stable functioning of the Internet and its present openness," Strickling said, adding that if the September 2015 deadline for the transition is not met, the NTIA can extend its contract with ICANN for up to four years.
Strickling also addressed thoughts that the U.S. should keep its current ICANN role in order to prevent nations that do not support an open Internet, such as Iran or Russia, from gaining the ability to make decisions that could have global impacts on the Internet. He said that transitioning into a multistakeholder model will only help squash government censorship.
"As one group of stakeholders in the ICANN process, governments have unique power to speak to the public interest when they speak as one based on consensus positions," Strickling said. "I want to emphasize this point: The Internet does not respect national boundaries. No one country, no two countries, no ten countries can claim to speak on behalf of the public interest...The idea that governments could enhance their influence within ICANN by changing its rules to allow for a majority vote on policy issues reflects a misunderstanding of the policymaking process at ICANN as well as a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word 'consensus.'"
Strickling said the NTIA's transition has the approval of tech companies like Google, telecoms like AT&T and Cisco and civil society groups like Human Rights Watch and Public Knowledge.
Even with skeptics worried about what this plan could mean for the Internet's future, Strickling is clear that the NTIA will be transparent as it can be throughout the entire process, which should help continue to put minds at ease.
"The multistakeholder model allows anyone the opportunity to participate and be heard," Strickling said. "That includes all of you in this room today. So I urge all of you to show your support for the transition process by participating in it. We have made it crystal clear that the plan should be developed in an open and transparent manner."
You can read Strickling's full remarks on NTIA's website or watch the full AEI event below.