Internet

U.S. to cede control of Internet naming system

Networking

The U.S. government is giving up over the authority to assign and coordinate the Internet address system, and is looking for a global partnership to emerge to take control of the function.

The federal government contracts authority to manage the Internet's global address book to the non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). When ICANN's contract to manage the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) expires at the end of September 2015, the United States intends to offload the function to a private, stakeholder-based group.

The Domain Name System is what allows websites to use names to map to their assigned numeric locations on the Internet. The National Telecommunications and Information Agency has had responsibility for the DNS since 1997. VeriSign will continue in its separate but related function of maintaining the authoritative root zone file where changes to the DNS are input. NTIA expects to "coordinate a related and parallel transition in these responsibilities," according to an agency document. The move has no effect on top-level U.S. government domains such as .mil and .gov.

"The timing is right to start the transition process. We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling said in a statement.

The move is part of a long-standing plan for the U.S. to end its control over these Internet backbone functions. The timing may have something to do with recent disclosures of U.S. government surveillance from documents leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, which have fueled international critics of U.S. control. However, Strickling made it clear that the function will not be handed over to the United Nations-based International Telecommunications Union, as some -- particularly in Russia and China -- have called for.

ICANN appears poised to retain its role in managing Internet addresses. "We do not believe what is needed here is a new organization," said ICANN's CEO Fadi Chehade on a call with reporters. Preliminary talks for transitioning the Internet naming function will begin at an ICANN meeting in Singapore set for next week.

The move was welcomed by global Internet governance organizations, including the Number Resource Organization, whose member groups manage country-based Internet domains around the world, and the Internet Society, which coordinates and convenes technical groups that manage Internet infrastructure.

Verizon was also quick to back the change, saying "A successful transition in the stewardship of these important functions to the global multi-stakeholder community would be a timely and positive step in the evolution of Internet governance."

Some skeptics voiced concern that ceding U.S. control might play into the hands of the less scrupulous. “What is the global internet community that Obama wants to turn the internet over to? This risks foreign dictatorships defining the internet," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in a tweet.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is a staff writer covering Congress, the FCC and other key agencies. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.

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