U.S. officials announced plans Friday to relinquish federal government control over the administration of the Internet, a move likely to please international critics but alarm many business leaders and others who rely on smooth functioning of the Web.
Pressure to let go of the final vestiges of U.S. authority over the system of Web addresses and domain names that organize the Internet has been building for more than a decade and was supercharged by the backlash to revelations about National Security Agency surveillance last year.
I won't pretend I'm thrilled about this, even if it was probably inevitable at some point. Whatever else you can say about the United States and the leverage its intelligence community gets from control over internet plumbing, it's also true that the US has been a pretty competent and reliable administrator of the most revolutionary and potentially subversive network ever invented. Conversely, global organizations don't have a great track record at technocratic management, and world politics—corrosive at best, illiberal and venal at worst—could kill the goose that laid the golden egg. I certainly understand why the rest of the world chafes at American control, but I nonetheless suspect that it might be the best of a bad bunch of options.
Then again, maybe not. There are also plenty of global standards-setting organizations that do a perfectly good job. Slowly and bureaucratically, maybe, but that's to be expected. Maybe ICANN will go the same way. We'll see.
In any case, I think we can expect Republicans to go ballistic over this.