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Last week the European Parliament voted on new rules to prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing down services like Skype and Netflix. Efforts to impose similar net neutrality rules in this country have, so far, failed to pass muster with the courts or attract enough support in Congress. But some lawmakers are speaking up with concerns about the future of the nonprofit organization which administers the Internet’s system of names and numbers. US oversight of this organization, ICANN, is scheduled to end in 2015. Join us for an update on the international debate over rules for the internet.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The European Parliament voted last week to move forward on net neutrality rules. In this country, there's still strong debate over just who benefits from those types of rules. Joining me in the studio to discuss international efforts to create new rules for Internet access and control: Laura DeNardis of the American University, Cecilia Kang of The Washington Post, and, joining us by phone from Las Vegas, Jeffrey Eisenach of the American Enterprise Institute.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are always welcome to be part of the program. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet or follow us on Facebook. And welcome to all of you.
MS. LAURA DENARDIS...much for having me.
MS. CECILIA KANGThank you.
MR. JEFFREY EISENACHThank you for having us.
REHMGood to see you all. Cecilia, talk about last week's vote in the European Parliament. What does it mean, and where are they?
KANGCertainly. Last Thursday, the EU parliament voted to move forward on what's known as net neutrality rules. This means that it's a significant step forward in that it could be the first continental, really continental-wide, rule in Europe for how consumers are protected in terms of their access to the content and the services of their choice on the Internet.
KANGAnd it was significant also in contrast to what's happening in the U.S. because, in the U.S., we're grappling with some of the same questions of how consumers should be protected as the Internet becomes really such an important part of the way that they communicate.
REHMDidn't roaming charges also enter into that?
KANGYes. This was part of a sweeping reform of all telecommunications rules in Europe and a part of that was net neutrality and roaming rules. And roaming rules were created so that if you travel from one country to another, consumers should be protected and not have to face really steep fines for being outside of their carrier's jurisdiction.
REHMCecilia Kang, she's a reporter for The Washington Post. Laura DeNardis is the author of the new book titled, "The Global War for Internet Governance." Recap for us where we are in this country today as compared to what the Europeans are doing.
DENARDISSure. The central question of net neutrality in the U.S. is the same as in the European Union. It's basically the issue of whether an Internet service provider should be legally prohibited to block content in applications such as Skype, if I'm using a cell phone, such as watching Netflix or slowing that down, watching "Orange is the New Black" on Netflix, for example. And unlike in the European Union, in the United States, net neutrality is not moving forward as the law of the land.
DENARDISThere have been a number of bills to pass net neutrality provisions. They've failed in Congress. There was also something that the FCC put forward called the Open Internet Rules, which was basically a statement that consumers are entitled to access the content in applications of their choice and some other basic non-discriminatory principles. But this has been blocked quite a bit over time, including by a federal court ruling that the FCC did not quite have jurisdiction over this issue. So right now, it's not the law of the land in the United States, even though in general, we have basic access to content and applications.
REHMLaura DeNardis at American University where she is professor in the School of Communications. And, Jeffrey, tell us what the critics of net neutrality say is going to happen if these new rules -- if they're instituted.
EISENACHMore of the same, really. The Europeans have fallen far behind the United States in the quality of their broadband networks. There are estimates of literally hundreds of billions of dollars of underinvestment in the broadband networks in Europe. The vast majority of Europeans still only have DSL service available, which we in the United States consider, really, almost an obsolete technology now.
EISENACHAnd very few Europeans have fourth-generation LTE wireless access. And that's because Europe has taken a very regulatory approach to broadband regulation in general and the net neutrality rules that they are threatening to put in place -- they won't actually go into place until a vote with the next parliament in May or after May. But if they do go into place, the effect will be more of the same to further disincentivize investment in broadband networks and continue the European Union's march to really a second-rate continent in terms of its broadband infrastructure.
REHMJeffrey Eisenach at the American Enterprise Institute. You are invited to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Cecilia, I'm surprised to hear Jeffrey's rendition of what could happen if these kinds of regulations go into effect here in the U.S.
KANGI think it deserves to be a little bit more refined, this idea that Europe is behind and that Europe is not a monolith in terms of the kinds of services, the quality of service, the speeds and the prices that consumers across Europe get. So, depending on the country -- actually, many countries are far ahead of the U.S. in terms of broadband adoption, the number of people who actually adopt broadband -- for example, Sweden is pretty high up there -- and in terms of prices and the quality, so it's not a monolith at all.
KANGAnd the question in Europe really, which is facing -- and I should say, in the U.S., even though a lot of the efforts of net neutrality have been thwarted or have been hobbled, most recently at the FCC, there is a renewed effort at the FCC right now that by the middle of this year, actually, to create new rules, to try again, basically, to sort of get a backup to base and try to strike up new rules that could pass muster in the courts.
KANGSo there is a continued effort in the U.S. In Europe, there is a stronger -- the vote was significant last week in that this is the first step forward for all 28 nations to determine further going forward what they want to do. And it's a strong step forward compared to the U.S., yes.
REHMSo you would not agree with Jeffrey's statement that it will be of lesser quality if net neutrality goes through.
KANGI think it's difficult to prove that that's the case. The companies -- one of the reasons why that is is that it's difficult to know how much to really unpack the economics of building out a network and improving the speeds of a network. And the companies in the U.S. are pretty -- they're sort of dark boxes on how they explain how much money they make, millions, billions of dollars over billions of dollars in Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, et cetera.
KANGBut they don't explain how much of the money goes into actually building and improving the quality of their networks. So it's difficult to say how much -- when you see the high revenue that comes in, why you aren't seeing a commensurate sort of quality of performance go up as well.
REHMAnd, Laura, I gather, speaking of Comcast and Time Warner, the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to question Comcast on its proposed merger with Time Warner. If that merger is approved, what might that mean for efforts to expand broadband access and prices?
DENARDISRight. There are several issues here. One is the issue of net neutrality and how this kind of increased market power would affect that. There is also the issue of interconnection. There was some recent controversy over the Netflix and Comcast agreement and what that would mean for net neutrality and whether this issue of interconnecting networks in the backbone of the Internet is related to the edge network and neutrality issue.
DENARDISAnd then there's also the issue of the merger itself. I feel that we already have a lot of monopoly power at the edges and that it's important to have as much competition as possible. That's why net neutrality is necessary, and net neutrality is actually important for innovation. It doesn't compromise innovation. And even the European Union rules provide a provision for network operators to perform congestion control and manage their own networks.
REHMExplain the deal that Netflix made with Comcast.
DENARDISComcast and Netflix announced jointly that they would directly interconnect their networks rather than having Netflix traffic flow first through a third party network. So they would directly interconnect, and there has been a reaction about that, saying that that would be a violation of net neutrality. But, actually, it's a different issue from net neutrality. It has to do with how networks would interconnect in the backbone.
DENARDISSo the Internet is not a cloud despite how we in universities portray it. It's actually a series of pipes and wireless services and switches, and there are buildings that you can go in with a Coke machine and a vending machine. There's actually a physical infrastructure. Part of that physical infrastructure is the way that companies interconnect their networks. So that's what that was about, and they made an agreement to directly connect, rather than to go through a third party.
REHMHow important is that, Cecilia?
KANGIt's extremely important. Only from the consumers point of view, what that deal meant is that, if you're watching "Orange is the New Black" or "House of Cards," as Laura mentioned, that means that the chances of the video stream being buffered, even to fall, to have some sort of -- any sort of slow down are much slimmer, in fact. And that's because Netflix has agreed to pay to make sure that its servers are closer to Comcast consumers.
KANGExactly. So basically they're paying for better access to consumers who are Comcast subscribers. And the reason why that it's significant is the first deal that could portend how other application companies connect with these ISPs.
REHMCecilia Kang, she's technology reporter for The Washington Post. We'll take a short break here. I know many of you have questions. We'll try to get to as many of those as possible. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about Internet access. We're talking about Internet neutrality, net neutrality. And let's bring up ICANN because I don't know very much about this, and I'd like you to explain it. Cecilia, here's an email from John in Oakton. He says, "Aren't critics making too much of the extent to which the NTIA has authority over ICANN? As I read it, ICANN must seek a no objection from NTIA for some but not all its decisions." Explain for us.
REHMAnd I want to get Jeffrey in on this.
KANGYes. I think that it deserves stepping back just a little bit to understand where we are right now in ICANN and where the NTIA, which is a small portion of the Commerce Department -- and it has oversight over this entity that essentially assigns the domain names and interconnects all the different parties that are on the Internet that are global now. So...
REHMAnd NTIA stands for...
KANGIs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
REHMAll right. And ICANN...
KANG...is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The telecom industry has some bad acronyms.
KANGSo the -- what's happening big picture is the Internet began in the U.S. It began out of the Department of Defense. And now there are 2 billion users globally on the Internet. Most of those users are outside of the U.S. And the question is, is the Internet that's been nurtured by the U.S. as terms of the entity, the one entity that actually governs portions of the Internet, does it make sense -- the question is, does it make sense for the United States to continue to have that role?
REHMAnd yet hadn't it announced it was giving up that role?
KANGAbsolutely. And it -- and Laura talks about this quite a bit. It was no big surprise. It shouldn't have been a surprise actually. Everybody knew that at some point the U.S. was willing to and thought that it should actually have a lesser role because it is a global Internet at this point.
KANGSo the NTIA's announcement last month actually, several weeks ago, that it would loosen its role over ICANN, number one, shouldn't have been a surprise and makes some sense in terms of how there should be more voice from global stakeholders going forward. And there are many provisions in place through this transition to make sure that there should be much -- there should be some buffers to make sure there isn't one oversized entity with oversized -- or outsized influence over ICANN going forward.
REHMSo where does the idea of net neutrality fit into that whole picture?
KANGWell, the idea of net neutrality, specifically the rules in each region, the U.S., Europe, don't specifically fit into this, except for the fact that it feeds into this larger debate over who should be governing the Internet and overseeing protections on the Internet and some of the values of the Internet, for example, privacy, security, the way that the Internet is interconnected.
KANGA lot of these questions have taken on particular significance, quite frankly, post-Edward Snowden revelations and the fact that the U.S. has been surveilling, has had this surveillance operation over many foreign Internet users. So big questions of, OK, does it make sense for the U.S. to have an outsized influence over Internet policy going forward? So all of this feeds into this larger debate over who should, if there should be anybody that governs the Internet, who should those people be or that person, that individual organization be?
EISENACHWell, I think it's important to put the ICANN issue in context both upward and downward, if you will. So in the downward sense, looking at it from a micro perspective, what ICANN does is a very technical function. The Department of Commerce's NTIA's contract with ICANN was governing what it did over an even more technical aspect of that function. The fact that the management of that function will be overseen by some different kind of entity is in the grand scheme of things, not very important, if that's all that's happening.
EISENACHBut that is where you have to take the context in the upward sense looking at it from a higher level, more larger global level. And there the question is, what values are going to govern the Internet? Since its inception, the Internet has been governed by principles of free markets and free bonds put in place really when the Internet was privatized by the Clinton Administration during the 1990s all under U.S. auspices. American values have governed the Internet over the course of the past 20-some years.
EISENACHAnd the concern, particularly when the motivation for alternative governance regimes is coming from states like China and like Russia and like Iran, the concern is that the U.S. would lose its ability to influence the principles that govern the Internet. And the ICANN contract becomes a small act in a much larger play but perhaps a meaningful one. And that's what gives people so much concern.
DR. LAURA DENARDISI often get asked the question, who should control the Internet, the United Nations, the U.S., Google or some other entity? And that kind of a question that's out there doesn't make sense on its face because the way that the Internet is now coordinated involves layer upon layer up on layer of function.
DR. LAURA DENARDISSo we talked about the net neutrality and access issue. There's also the issue of interconnection. There's also the role of private companies like Google and controlling content. There's also standard setting. And then there's this one area called critical Internet resources. And that's what we're talking about here, names and numbers. What do I mean by that?
DR. LAURA DENARDISWell, when someone gets on the Internet, they'll go to a website, such as thedianerehmshow.org or american.edu or coke.com. And that's what we use to access the Internet and to find information. But what computers use is a binary number. So those names have to be linked to a number, which is just a series of zeroes and ones.
DR. LAURA DENARDISNow, the way the Internet was designed was that each name and each number has to be globally unique. Because of that requirement for global uniqueness, there has to be some control over the distribution of those numbers, of those names, and there has to be some control over the mapping between names and numbers. So that's what we're talking about.
DR. LAURA DENARDISThere are two extreme views of the Department of Commerce announcement. We've heard some people describe it as extreme as Obama's Internet surrender or turning over the Internet to Russia and China. On the other hand, we have people saying, this is no big deal. It's a no brainer. But the reality is somewhere in between. It's not a nonevent, and it's also not turning over the Internet to Russia.
REHMIsn't there some restriction on the part of both China and Russia to allow use of the Internet? And how does that figure in here?
DENARDISIt's a vital question. There are a lot of governments around the world with extremely repressive information policies. And in figuring out what the transition of the management of names and numbers is, the last thing that we would want is to move into an environment where those types of countries have an outsized influence over how names are distributed, over how numbers are distributed and the mapping with those two.
REHMAnd joining us now from Paris, France, Esther Dyson. She's founding chair of ICANN and current chair of EDventure, a company that invests in technology-related startups. Esther, it's good to talk with you again.
MS. ESTHER DYSONThank you. I'm actually in London just for...
REHMAh, you're in London. Forgive me.
REHMForgive me. Explain the idea behind ICANN and how they ended up operating.
DYSONOK. Well, first it's worth pointing out that the best thing the U.S. government has done since the creation of ICANN is very little, the point being that, in a sense, they fill the vacuum so that no one could come in and control the Internet. And that's really very important. It doesn't -- I would argue it needs this central coordination but it really doesn't need central governance.
DYSONIf you look at the world today, the best thing we've got to protect ourselves is competition among governing entities of anything. And that's why cities are getting so much more currency than nation states because cities are actually more responsive to people than nation states.
DYSONSo the USG basically said, nobody mess with this thing. Make -- as was described, the correspondence between the names and the numbers, make that work and let people do it for themselves. Don't allow someone to say, well, these names are improper. These names are harmful to the government. These names are, you know, improper. They offend religious sensibilities or whatever. They sort of said, this is a technical coordinating thing, and we don't need any governance.
DYSONThat's very different from at a lower -- not a lower technical level but a more local or a more contract-governed or things of that privacy contract, fraud, consumer protection and pricing, which is the real issue in net neutrality. Those can indeed be governed, but the Internet itself should be simply a platform. And the -- what the people are worried about is that ICANN will not be -- the control will now rest in the hands of entities that do want to control what names are permissible.
DYSONAnd, you know, in the end, most people -- many people are beginning now instead of typing Facebook.com, they simply type Facebook into Google, which you might say is silly, but it works very well. And I think ultimately, as the Internet and the tools and services on it become more intelligent, we'll get to the point where you don't need to precisely specify where you're going because your computer will know. And...
REHMAll right. And, Laura, you want to comment.
DENARDISYes. I think, just adding to what Esther said, it's a highly technical area, but it is one with political implications. And sometimes it's helpful to explain what those are, basically what is at stake if the transition does not go well. Well, if you think about the issue of domain names, a number of issues come up. One is the area of trademark. For example, who should own the domain name united.com? Should it be United Arab Emirates, should it be United Airlines, should it be United Van Lines, should it be the soccer team -- the sports team the Manchester United?
REHMAnd who's going to make that decision?
DENARDISRight now, it is decided through a process that was facilitated through ICANN that resolves domain name trademark disputes. And it's a system that has been running fairly well, but it's -- another complication there is the authorization of new top level domains. Those are things like .com, .edu. So some of the new proposals have been things, like, in the -- this one is in the news a lot, .sux, .sex, .gay. So when these things are being authorized and then a country steps in and might say something like, well, we don't want the space .gay on the network, that's a freedom of expression issue. So there are a lot of political implications at stake.
REHMLaura DeNardis of American University, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jeffrey Eisenach, what do you say about all this?
EISENACHWell, I think all of the comments that have been made are right. And Esther, more than anyone, is in a position to speak to this with expertise. Because she had the task of stepping in as the first long-term chair of ICANN when its original chair died an untimely death, Jon Postel, back in the mid-1990s, and did a fabulous job getting all of this off the ground. And I think she's exactly right that the U.S. has played a very important role of filling a power vacuum and filling it in a very benign way.
EISENACHAnd I think that's where we come back to looking forward is not just really not wanting to have some alternative force engaged, but really in a sense wanting to have a benign force, a hands-off approach to the regulation of these issues and letting them get worked out through these multi-stakeholder organizations which have really worked pretty well.
REHMSo, Esther, I gather you have some real problems with the idea of net neutrality. Can you outline those for us?
DYSONWell, actually, sorry, I just want to go back to this issue of the new top level domains which...
DYSON...yeah, it is a very interesting question. And then you get the question of who gets United.air? Is it United Arab Emirates Airlines, or is it United Airlines? And in many cases, that is up to the highest bidder. So one of the problems with ICANN right now is that it's very financially driven. And at the same time, I think it's better to be financially driven than to be -- you know, if all they want is my money, that's great. If they want my silence, it's a real problem.
DYSONBut we're getting to the point with the new top level domains, as I said earlier, where in many cases there are just going to be so many of them that they will all lose their value other than as protection. And I think five or 10 years from now, the whole domain name arguments may be moot, as long as we don't have a system that's controlled by governments who want to control speech.
DYSONAnd that's -- I have no problem with the U.S. giving it to the global stakeholders. But the problem is the global stakeholders aren't represented anywhere effectively. It's kind of like saying, I want to marry off my child, but I can't find a spouse. You know, you can't marry something off in principle. You have to find somebody new to do it if you advocate.
DYSONAnd to me that's the big question because all these issues around multi-stakeholders aren't really real. The people who have an interest in ICANN, interest enough to show up to meetings, to run for the board, to get involved in its governance are usually people who have an interest in something else and see ICANN as a way to further that interest.
REHMAll right. Cecilia, you wanted to comment.
KANGConfusing the issue of the U.S.'s transition in terms of its role of -- over ICANN is just criticism over ICANN in general. I think a lot of people -- ICANN has been really criticized for the way that it actually implements its domain name system, and especially since top level domain names have been really in the news lately.
KANGAnd you're seeing -- and, as Esther said, it's become sort of very financially driven, given to the highest bidders by one of the -- you know, a criticism often mentions, so, if you have, like, a company like Google or Amazon, they're able to buy lots of domain names and be able to -- and the companies that are the most deep-pocketed being able to do that, the question is, so what happens to the mom and pop shop that wants to buy the domain name that fits most perfectly for their business? So that's clouding sort of the discussion.
REHMCecilia Kang of The Washington Post. Short break here. And when we come back, your calls, comments. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back as we deal with many questions certainly regarding the issues of net neutrality. But, first, I do want to read an email from a listener who lives in Germany listening to the program on her iPad. "No problem here. DSL is not the norm here in Germany. Our Internet service is fast and reliable. Prices are fair. And when watching TV streaming, bandwidth is more than sufficient."
REHMAnd I gather that is the case, certainly in Germany. We don't know where else. But here we go with a question from Tony in Tamarack, Fla.: "Isn't the so-called net neutrality just a thinly veiled attempt at censorship? Why would we relinquish control of the Internet to others who may have less respect for free speech?" Laura DeNardis.
DENARDISCertainly. Well, there are two parts of that question. One is net neutrality, and then the separate question of the handover of U.S. oversight of the names and numbers function related to ICANN how the transition proceeds is really the key question. It's critically important that it not be handed over to some entity that would be censoring and filtering the Internet. So, just to be clear, we're at the beginning of this rather than the end.
DENARDISIt's a blank slate right now for what this transition will look like and what is not acceptable is a system that leaves out stakeholders, so, for example, one that does not account for the private industry that is involved in performing these management functions, that leaves out the voice of civil society, or that leaves out the role of governments.
DENARDISWhat we don't want is to move from what we have right now, which is usually called a multi-stakeholder governance model that involves all these various stakeholders to a model that replaces this particular U.S. government oversight of a narrow function to another government entity. So we don't want to go from multi-stakeholder governance to a multi-lateral governance structure. And, in fact, the Commerce Department announcement stated that it must be multi-stakeholder.
REHMWell, what would the possibilities be if the U.S. is not the force?
DENARDISThere are a number of different possibilities. One of the best case scenarios is for the people who are running these functions to continue running it the day of the transition. The question is this ultimate oversight. It requires just a little bit of technical explanation. One of the key functions is the oversight of something called the route zone file. This is a file that some describe as the very center of the Internet. It contains the names and the numbers for all of the top level domains.
DENARDISSo it's not a very big file. It's part of the domain name system, but it's the very top of the hierarchy, meaning the center of the Internet. The NTIA has been authorizing changes to that. And what they've basically done is have a hands-off approach where they've let changes to the route zone file move forward. So having some kind of a system that was hands-off, that wasn't a slow-moving government entity like an intergovernmental organization, but maybe a combination of the individuals already involved in ICANN, which, by the way, does include some government responsibility through the governmental advisory committee.
EISENACHWell, I wanted to circle back to the question on the net neutrality part of that question. I do think the two questions are related because they both go to the question of to what extent nation states, governments are going to control commerce and speech over the Internet. And I think we've got kind of a double standard here where we look at ICANN and say, boy, we certainly wouldn't want any governments involved there, but then some people turn around and look at net neutrality and say, boy, what we really need is much more aggressive government regulation when it comes to net neutrality.
EISENACHNet neutrality does not protect consumers in any way. Net neutrality protects corporations. What net neutrality does is prohibit companies like the Walt Disney Company or Google or Netflix from paying money to companies like Verizon or Comcast or Time Warner. And, obviously, those companies would prefer not to pay money to Comcast and Verizon and Time Warner. They would like it if their traffic were carried for free.
EISENACHBut when that happens, what that means, in effect, is that consumers, particularly consumers who don't use a lot of bandwidth, end up paying for those who do. So if you're a very active Netflix downloader, you would love for Netflix to have a free ride so that the cost of the bandwidth that you use is not part of your monthly bill on Netflix. You would like other consumers of, let's say, Verizon or Comcast, your fellow ISP consumers to subsidize your use of Netflix. So net neutrality is really mostly an economic issue, and it's mostly an economic issue of some big corporations wanting to get a free ride from others.
KANGWell, except for the fact that if, as a consumer, that might mean that the next Netflix that's being dreamed up by, you know, some new entrepreneur may have a much more difficult time to make it if they can't pay for specialized access to consumer. That's the flip side of the argument. But I want to go back to the -- I think the crux of the debate is over values, over the Internet, and the question of whether there can be blanket global agreement on certain values on how the Internet should operate really.
KANGAnd there's real questions that the U.S. is sort of an outlier in its approach to speech. Many nations don't have free speech sort of values that we have. And we saw that most recently in the Turkish election, and when Turkey decided -- the Turkish government decided to shut down social media ahead of the election. That was -- it, you know, sparked lots of cries and outrage globally, but, within Turkey, people were divided on that.
KANGAnd Europe, for example, has much stronger opinions and values when it comes to privacy than the U.S. does. So, you know, the question really is, so you have all these countries that make up the Internet, that connect to the Internet. Can there be agreement on certain core values? And that's where I think the friction lies.
DYSONI like Cecilia's point, and I agree with her. And I think in the end, the only really core value is that anything that can be decided locally should be. Personally, I'm a fanatic about freedom of speech, and so I'd like that to be the worldwide default. But I think, you know, I can't control what governments do to their own citizens, but I don't want those governments controlling me as not a citizen.
DYSONAnd just to get back to the net neutrality point, I think the issue here is that I don't want bid corporations and, you know, large incumbents like Netflix abusing their monopoly. But the way to deal with that is not a net neutrality regulation. It's anti-trust enforcement. If somebody abuses their monopoly power, then anti-trust should come into play. But this kind of overall net neutrality that sets prices actually does end up harming many consumers and interfering with the free market.
REHMAll right. I'm going to take a call, let's see, from Ray in Indianapolis. Hi there.
RAYOh, thanks. I'd like your guests to talk about the Internet system in South Korea. Apparently, they have very fast broadband, very fast Internet, and they're as far ahead of us as one of your guests said Europe was behind us, and that I want to know how they're able to do that, and it's apparently very affordable. And I'll take my answer off the air.
REHMAll right. And to you, Jeffrey.
EISENACHWell, you're right. South Korea has the best broadband access in the world, has had that for many years. They did it through an aggressive industrial policy, in part. They did it by subsidizing the building out of fiber. But they've also managed to do it because it's a small country with an extremely densely-packed population. So if you compare Korea to some parts of Paris, or if you compare Korea to many United States' cities or even states, the comparison is much more favorable.
EISENACHWhere the U.S. starts to look not as good is when you compare a very small densely-packed country of apartment buildings, high-rises, to a state like South Dakota, which is a very different kettle of fish. So that's the bigger picture.
REHMAll right. Here is an email from Michael who says, "Is it possible the big players who want more control over the net are orchestrating the move of control over domain addresses to another area where the government will allow taxing, control over content, throttling, et cetera?" Laura.
DENARDISIt's an important question. I think the issue of how to preserve a free and open Internet is one of the great questions of our generation. And this is exactly why it has to be very -- we have to very carefully proceed. But I do want to say that from a standpoint of principles, we can talk about all of these as having common themes. But at some point, you have to operationalize it, and you have to recognize that -- and I have an engineering background, and I'm passionate about these various areas.
DENARDISThey're all distinct in terms of how things are managed, how the technology works, and how you can actually implement it. So on the issue of the domain names, the question at hand is the one about ICANN. And I personally feel that ICANN has done a very good job managing its -- it changes all the time. The thought that I would like to leave on this is that we can't take for granted how much administration of the Internet is required.
DENARDISWe like to think that it's uncontrolled, but, actually, we're talking about hundreds of billions of transactions per day, such as resolving names into numbers. So it's important not to take that for granted and to acknowledge the technical issues but to be careful about the free speech issues to make sure that a system of multi-stakeholder oversight is in place so that one power does not have more control than any other. So I would say the goal is a balance of powers between various stakeholders.
REHMSo, Esther Dyson, as you look at the broader picture, what role do you think governments should play in efforts to keep the Internet a level playing field for both content providers and consumers?
DYSONVery minimal. I think if you look at, for example, the highway system, you know, there are places where you don't allow trucks, for example, and you have traffic lights. But you don't ask, who's driving this car, you know, do they have an offensive message on their bumper? So we want to make sure there are no accidents and things move around smoothly.
DYSONAnd, for what it's worth, I think it was Laura just mentioned the complexity -- you know, we do the same thing with telephone numbers. It's amazing. You dial a number, and you get, for example, from Washington to London with no trouble. So the system's complex, but it's also very distributed and works quite well.
REHMSo you think government should not play a role.
DYSONVery minimal. I mean, again, they should keep order, but they really don't need to worry about pricing. They need to worry about a monopoly abuse, whether that's monopoly abuse over pricing and control of content or monopoly abuse, yes, where somebody is trying to silence a competitor or a critic.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Where do you come out on this, Cecilia?
KANGWell, the news of the NTIA's transition of ICANN is really getting confused in all these bigger debates. And I think it doesn't serve ICANN well that it's based in Southern California, which feeds more into the sort of perception that the United States has an outsized role over governance of the Internet. So all of these questions are really -- will be addressed in this transition that's going to take more than a year, really, probably.
KANGAnd it really is a story about evolution, the evolution of the Internet that began decades ago in the Unites States at the Department of Defense that was nurtured by the U.S. government but is now a global platform communications and, in many nations, the main mode of communications for their people and the question of, how do you make sure that the Internet insures free markets and competition and consumer protection?
REHMLet's go to Richard in Newport, Mich. You're on the air.
RICHARDThank you, Diane. I've been involved militarily as a civilian in the very electronic warfare systems and so forth that pervade our security in this country. And I'm a little bit disturbed that the NSA is being demonized here. And we're needing something in that sort to sort out the people who would do us harm using this wonderful net.
RICHARDAnd the Bluffton, Utah place that's already been built, stores and keeps records so people who may do us harm and probably eliminate those who make it easier to sort out the problem areas, I don't think there's interest in content except for those which may be suspicious. And I have been very surprised that the Congress acted so surprised about the entire program that they authorized and funded.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call. Cecilia.
KANGThe question of surveillance is certainly one of the framing questions around a lot of these debates. And you see nations like Germany and Brazil express a lot of outrage really over the U.S.'s NSA practices. So that feeds into this debate of how much, you know, control really -- and control may not be the right word -- but how much influence should the U.S. have in global Internet policy when people look at the NSA and they don't like the way that we actually operate on the Internet, the U.S. government? So I think it's a really important question to bring up how the NSA's -- the revelations of the NSA surveillance practices feed into the perception of the U.S. and on Internet global governance.
REHMIt would seem that there are a host of questions related to these issues. And it's going to be a long time before they all get resolved. I thank you all so much for joining us today, Laura DeNardis of American University, author of "The Global War for Internet Governance," Cecilia Kang of The Washington Post, Jeffrey Eisenach of the American Enterprise Institute, and Esther Dyson, chair of EDventure which invests in technology related startups. She is founding chair of ICANN. And to all of you, thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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