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ICANN latest: Will the internet be owned by Ted Cruz or Vladimir Putin in October?

Let's check in with the IANA madness

Analysis The battle over the internet's critical IANA contract shows no sign of being resolved – with just two weeks to go until it is due to be handed over to internet oversight organization ICANN.

Thursday 15 September would have been the day that the Department of Commerce formally informed ICANN by letter that it intended to extend the contract for a further year. It didn't send it, meaning that it will now fall to Congress to actively block the transition.

Whether that happens is currently impossible to tell, with enormous amounts of lobbying pouring into Congress and wildly different versions of negotiations coming out.

On one side sits Ted Cruz, the abrasive senator from Texas, who appears to be using the contact as a way to both disrupt the government and put himself back in the limelight.

In truth, very few senators know anything about the IANA contract, which has led to some consternation that it is being pushed as a negotiation point in debates over funding the US government into fiscal year 2017.

Cruz has been actively sidelined by senior Republicans following the disastrous shutdown of government in 2013 in which he was the main instigator. Of course, that has only made him more determined to get in on the action – leading to his headline-busting claim that handing over the IANA contract will lead both to the death of the First Amendment on the internet and to Russian and Chinese control of our online lives.

Neither claim is anywhere near true, but it has gotten him back in the spotlight and has started to push the issue, along with other fights going on in Congress over Syrian refugees, the Zika virus and Planned Parenthood.

Cruz used a Senate hearing earlier this week to further promote his claims, willfully ignoring the internet experts in front of him and working to his own script. Many felt he crossed the line, however, when he threatened government staff with jail time and the loss of their careers for not doing what he claimed Congress wanted.

Fight fight fight

Washington – and the Washington press – loves nothing more than a good fight, and so Cruz's wild claims have started picking up steam, prompting a determined push-back by the other side – the US government and tech companies in large part – to explain why the transition is a good idea.

Efforts by Democrats to undermine Cruz have of course only led to more notoriety. "Can Ted Cruz and Republicans dream up an any more obscure and irrelevant issue to stop the business of the American government?" said Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) this week to reporters.

He was right of course, Cruz has hand-picked the IANA issue to fit with his agenda: first, the contract ends on the same day as the fiscal year; second, the Obama Administration is keen for it to go ahead; and third, because it is comparatively obscure given the wider world of government, it is his for the taking.

But talking about Cruz just emboldens him further. (After we wrote a piece comparing him to Senator Joseph McCarthy, Cruz's office retaliated by putting us on his press list.)

The problem with all this is that there is a very serious issue at the heart of this transition: the potential creation of a new FIFA, but one running the internet rather than the World Cup.

The whirlwind around IANA has ended up conflating and confusing several issues at once. Removing the red herrings of the First Amendment and Vladimir Putin, there are two distinct issues: the IANA contract itself, and the organization it is awarded to.

When it comes to the IANA contract, assistant commerce secretary Larry Strickling and all the many supporters of the transition are unquestionably right when they say the best thing to do is to remove the US government from what has been, as it has said repeatedly, a "clerical function."

The US government serves little real purpose, and it is an unnecessary distraction, especially since countries like China and Russia can point to the US government's involvement as a reason why governments should be involved in the functioning of the internet.

As US government officials have also repeatedly pointed out – its transition to the private sector has been the goal of successive administrations both Republican and Democrats.

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