Amidst growing international pressure, the US government has announced the Internet management body Icann will be independent as of late 2015
The US government has agreed to end its direct oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which handles Internet domain names, and has asked Icann to lead international talks aimed at establishing a new organisational model.
The decision, announced on Friday, means that the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will allow its contract with Icann to operate key domain name functions to expire in September 2015.
The move was seen by many in the industry as a reaction to concerns over the US government’s influence over the Internet, particularly in the wake of the recent US National Security Agency (NSA) mass-surveillance scandal, but NTIA administrator Lawrence Strickling and Icann president and chief executive Fadi Chehadé (pictured) said the shift had always been planned. Icann’s contract with the NTIA to operate the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions was established in 1999.
Calls for a more international Internet management structure have ceom from the EU digital commissioner Neelie Kroes nmong others, but Strickling made no mention of this, saying that ICANN has now “matured” to the point where the US government can relinquish control.
“The timing is now right to start this transition both because ICANN as an organisation has matured, and international support continues to grow for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance,” Strickling said in a statement.
At a press conference, Strickling specified that the US government would not accept a new oversight model based on a “government-led or intergovernmental solution”.
Chehadé promised an open and inclusive process, including input from civil society and Internet groups, that would be aimed at creating a new international oversight structure for Icann. “Nothing will be done in any way to jeopardize the security and stability of the Internet,” he stated.
Discussion of the transition plans is to begin at Icann’s next meeting, in Singapore, from 23 to 27 March.
The shift away from the US government was praised by some as a move toward a more independent Internet.
US Democrat Senator John Rockefeller said the move reflected the US’ long-standing commitment to “transitioning management of the Internet’s domain name system to an independent entity that reflects the broad diversity of the global Internet community”.
Internet technical organisations including the Internet Society, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium said the time was right for the transition. “The Internet technical community is strong enough to continue its role, while assuming the stewardship function as it transitions from the US government,” the groups said in a joint statement. Verizon also called the move a “timely and positive step”.
Critics included the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which expressed “concern” about the move. The ANA has also strongly opposed Icann’s top-level domain plans.
Republican former House speaker Newt Gingrich said via Twitter: “What is the global Internet community that Obama wants to turn the Internet over to? This risks foreign dictatorships defining the Internet.”
Icann, headquartered in Los Angeles, was created in 1998 to oversee functions such as IANA that had previously had direct contracts with the US government. Icann’s responsibilities include maintaining the stable and secure functioning of the Internet, including coordination of the Internet Protocol address spaces, assignment of address blocks to regional Internet registries, maintaining registries of Internet protocol identifiers and managing the top-level domain name space, the DNS root zone, including operation of the root name servers.
While Icann manages root zone and Internet IP address allocation, the US’ NTIA currently administers the authoritative root zone file under a contract with Icann, an indication of the influence that the US government has continued to exercise over the Internet’s operation.
Icann’s current programmes include the controversial rollout of more than 1,000 new “.anything” top-level domains (TLDs), a process which has attracted criticism notably from the ANA, with some arguing the new domains will increase online fraud.
Icann introduced non-Latin domain names in 2009.
Do you know all about the Internet of Things? Take our quiz.