Facing pressure from both foreign governments and independent Internet governance bodies, the Obama administration intends to move key Internet domain name functions it oversees to multistakeholder bodies.
The announcement came from the U.S. Commerce department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which as a first step has asked the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to bring together groups to develop a proposal to drop NTIA’s role in co-ordinating the Internet’s domain name system (DNS).
“The timing is right to start the transition process,” assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling said in a statement. “We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan.”
UPDATE: In a blog Strickling said the U.S. “will not accept a proposal that replaces NTIA’s role with a government-led or an inter-governmental solution.”
Bodies ICANN will work with include the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), the Internet Society (ISOC), Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) — such as the Canadian Internet Registration Authority — top level domain name operators, VeriSign, and other interested global stakeholders.
NTIA has the legal job of administering changes to the root zone file, the database containing the list of names and addresses of all top-level domains, and is the steward of the DNS. It contracts ICANN to carry out the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions on the DNS side ,and with Verisign to do root zone management.
“I am pleased by the U.S. government’s decision to not renew the IANA contract past its September 2015 expiration date,” Byron Holland, CEO of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), which oversees the .ca domain. “It represents a significant evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem. I laud the U.S. government for taking this leadership role. While there are many details to work out, this is the next logical step toward a truly global Internet, ensuring that the next two billion users are able to come online as successfully as the first two billion did.”
Internet governance has been a simmering problem for many years with a number of countries complaining the U.S. has undue influence over the Web for everything from spying to pushing for citizen rights over nation-state rights. It came to a climax in 2012 at the Dubai World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) when Canada, the U.S. and a number of other countries refused to sign new regulations they believe could undermine an open Internet.
Since then the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden about American spying over the Internet has raised suspicions even more. Meanwhile ICANN and a number of other groups have been trying to find ways to broaden Internet governance.
Evan Leibovitch, president of the Internet Society of Canada and vice-president of , called the U.S. decision “wonderful news.” It means oversight of ICANN will go to a multi-stake body, although one that has yet to be designed. For that reason, he added, it will be a long process. But body will have to be multi-national and not controlled by governments.
Asked it will help avoid the confrontation between nations seen at the Dubai conference, he said “it addresses a chunk of it, but this job is far from complete.”
It isn’t clear how fast ICANN can take full control, or whether the conditions NTIA has laid down for relinquishing control will mollify complainers. NTIA says any new ICANN transitional governance plan must have broad community support; support and enhance the multistakeholder model; maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS; meet the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners of the IANA (the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) services; and maintain the openness of the Internet.