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The Internet (and ICANN) After the Trump Apocalypse

Anthony Rutkowski

Three months ago, I pondered the question Would the Internet Survive a Trump Apocalypse? As improbable as that outcome was in August, enough of the American electorate has "pulled the pin" to bring it on. It is a brave new world — distinctly darker and more uncertain. At the moment, the Trump team is trying to figure out how to manifest their vacuous invectives masquerading as policy. The world is watching, and Washington looks like the scene in Ghostbusters where the containment grid has just been turned off, and the demonic ghosts are rising from the underbelly of K-Street. The result here is a Washington lobbying dream — a result rather different than that promised to naïve Trump devotees.

There is no Reality TV script here. Some pundits credibly suggest that a U.S. President whose ideology is based singularly on Narcissism, will not survive. Germany — which has experienced its own nightmare with a demagogue — sees the U.S. election in dire terms adversely affecting the stature of the West broadly. Respected commentators have opined that "America died on Nov. 8."

However, only a quarter of Americans actually pulled the voting lever for Trump. Indeed, Clinton beat him on votes. Now, shock is turning to all manner of actions to contain the damage done and fight back. Massive anti-Trump Washington rallies are planned on the day of the inauguration, and that is just the start. Like the old adage about the internet, people and institutions will route around malfunctions and adapt. The Trump Apocalypse is a major disruption that will create a new market for survival and resistance strategies — including internet institutions like ICANN.

Disruptions of various kinds to internets and DNS have unfolded for the past forty years. Although nothing nearly this extreme has befallen U.S. politics, there are examples in the early 80s of reactionary political ideologues coming to power in Washington who tried to take over and significantly alter the role of government in internet-related developments. That was a very different world of technologies, providers, markets, and government roles. The pendulum swung hard in the direction of government facilitating platforms favored by those major companies with the ability to shape Washington institutions. Still, internets prevailed, and the DNS platform emerged. Atkinson's observations as to reversing the ICANN decision seem likely — especially as the Trump argument was based on pure political rhetoric and is unlikely to be supported by industry. However, what about other potential developments?

The Internet as Paradigm is dead. All kinds of global and U.S. domestic politics come into play here. Policies like NetNeutrality, FCC expansion of Title II authority, and privacy requirements seem likely to be quickly undone. Globally, the notion of the internet as a mechanism of democratic regime change seems certain to cease, notwithstanding the irony that it helped Trump come into power in the U.S.

New compliance obligations. New mandates associated with more traditional compliance obligations — particularly related to availability and critical infrastructure protection, emergency and public safety communication, national security and law enforcement investigatory, cybersecurity, and Identity Management will take their place. These needs are even more important today than they were 30 years ago. This shift has also actually occurred across many countries in the form of new legislation over the past two years. Government will look more to industry — at least industry with a significant Washington presence — to take the lead and enact technology neutral compliance frameworks. Already, infrastructure and services are rapidly shifting to NFV-SDN-5G based virtualized solutions run out of data centers.

China is effectively the new global leader. A patent tenet of Trumpism is that the U.S. is no longer a Western or global leader. It will look inward, not outward. The clear benefactor here seems China which on multiple levels, has watched, analyzed, invested, adapted, and acted quietly and widely to assume the role once played by the West. In almost every one of the several score network and ICT technology venues — now largely meeting places for industry — Chinese companies and agencies are present and engaged. It is admittedly possible that in some kind of fit of self-immolation, Trump could engage in a global economic war with China. However, the consequences to the U.S. and his own presidency would likely be immediate and catastrophic and serve to moderate this behavior. Russia and the MEA nations seem accepting of this outcome. Other countries will have to fend for themselves — probably being careful and neutral on controversies.

Going to the information dark side. Given the unfortunate reality that the Trump campaign was built almost entirely on outlandish lies and conspiracy theories as a "new normal" paradigm, it is possible that government agency information offices from the White House on down, including USIA and Voice of America, would become Breitbart instrumentalities. However, pulling this off requires an exercise of control in Washington that largely does not exist, and would be strongly resisted. It would also induce an automatic level of distrust in everything the Trump regime said and did domestically and internationally — which would be highly counterproductive.

Stable, valuable institutions should do well. Global, largely industry driven bodies, have acquired a pre-eminence in the past two decades — replacing both intergovernmental and academic ones. Bodies like 3GPP and GSMA are the most notable exemplars. ICANN's continuing role seems enhanced by its steps toward global diversification. However, in the new world that has emerged, it needs to do much more to assume a role that moves away from legacy internet centricity to more effectively engage in the broader array of industry institutions and technologies. In too many important venues, ICANN is absent and a non-player. This will also help mitigate the threat of the DONA Foundation championed by Russia and effectively diminishing ICANN's role. A post-Trump Apocalypse strategy will be important to ICANN's success in the future.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC
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