– James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

“Brand” and “branding” are the current darlings of the fashionista class. They’re rapidly driving those terms into the realm of cliché by busily associating them with practically everything you can think of.

But in the midst of branding’s 15 minutes of fame, a potentially crippling challenge faces the non-brand that we have come to rely on: the Internet.

The US Department of Commerce announced in March that it will not renew the contract that gives it oversight of some core functions of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Thus, the US will relinquish control over key technical elements of the Internet’s infrastructure.

For those unaware of ICANN’s role, it maintains the root-zone filenames and addresses that are the bedrock enablers of the Internet as we know it. Since the beginning, these have been controlled and maintained by a multi-stakeholder, worldwide community of developers, engineers, and network administrators.

Instead, the Administration thinks that this control should be Balkanized among a “world body” of governments and other interested parties, who chafe at the current US role.

Bad idea. In fact, very bad.

It will enable a government to control the flow of information and expression not only within its own borders, but also beyond them because control of root-zone filenames and addresses effectively means control of the Internet and what can flow across it. We have already glimpsed harbingers of this in governmental firewalls and adverse action taken to stifle opposing views and alternative news sources.

Despite its flaws, the US is still seen as that “shining city on a hill” by much of the world’s population. Our country remains the epitome of opportunity and freedom, even in the face of perceived shortcomings in the expression of those ideals.

Until very recently, the opportunity and freedom that the US embodies could be seen only dimly from afar—a beacon unreachable by the vast majority, which made it an unattainable desire.

The Internet changed all this. It is the reachable embodiment of all of the positive virtues that the US represents. For the first time in history, a nation has created something that puts its ideals and possibilities within reach of the majority of the world. And the rules of that medium, such as they are, are firmly linked to those inspiring notions of freedom and opportunity for every voice able to tap into it.

This is why the status quo of US oversight of the Internet, specifically the ICANN functions, is in the best interest of the world’s peoples. Relinquishing it to a “world body” likely dominated by governments, jeopardizes the everyday person’s ability to experience the beginnings of freedom and opportunity, and to be inspired to bring that virtual capability into the reality of their own country.

As the US is the shining city on a hill, so the independence of the Internet, guarded by US stewardship, is the shining possibility in the world’s living rooms. It is too impactful a force for progress to abdicate.