Internet Governance

U.S. preps to shift critical Internet control

Shutterstock image: global, international connections.

A Commerce Department component is close to approving a plan to move control of the architecture that maps and maintains stability of the Internet address system to a global, multi-stakeholder group.

The National Telecommunications and Information Agency has for years controlled the critical IANA contract (short for Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) that serves as the address book of the global Internet. On March 10, a proposal to transition the IANA function away from NTIA was announced at a global Internet governance meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.

While the move to cede U.S. control of Internet Protocol address blocks, the root zone file (the registry of top-level domains like .com), configuration protocols, and other bedrock Internet architecture had been part of a long-term plan for decades, the surveillance revelations of Edward Snowden apparently speeded the U.S. timetable.

As expected, the U.S.-based non-profit ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is set to maintain its stewardship over the IANA function. In response to concerns about the potential for government worldwide, but especially in countries that don't rank high in freedom of speech or rule of law, Congress mandated a review of the proposal by the Government Accountability Office and by NTIA.

The NTIA has tapped Harvard's Berkman Center to conduct a review of the proposal, to be completed by June 30, according to contracting documents released March 16.

NTIA head Larry Strickling won't be making any public comments on the proposal while the review is ongoing. But in a March 17 speech at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Strickling said the review would be looking to confirm that the proposal met key requirements. It must "support and enhance the multistakeholder model of Internet governance," and not be based on government or inter-governmental control, he said. The plan also must keep the domain name system stable and secure, satisfy customer expectations and "maintain the openness of the Internet."

Alissa Cooper, who chaired the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group that crafted the proposal, told lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the plan "meets the criteria for the transition that NTIA established at the outset of the process."

As always, the details matter. The proposal is technical and dense, and will take weeks to analyze. NTIA has extended its hold on the IANA function before, when the process crept past a 2015 deadline to renew ICANN's contract. Additionally, observers will be looking to make sure changes in ICANN's bylaw are written and implemented in such a way that obviates the potential for greater institutional control from governmental participants than currently exists. A paper from the right-leaning Heritage Foundation advocates a two-year "soft extension" of NTIA's stewardship of the IANA contract to make sure that promised changes at ICANN take root.

The forthcoming NTIA and GAO reviews will go a long way to deciding whether the IANA functions remain with the U.S. government for another year, but it appears that the long-awaited transition could be decided by November.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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