The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced earlier this week that it would extend the contract between the U.S. and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to administer the technical functions related to the domain name system, known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).
U.S. oversight of ICANN matters because of ICANN’s important role in the naming function of the Internet.
This announcement comes more than a year after NTIA first announced that it intended to transition oversight of ICANN to the global multi-stakeholder community.
The multi-stakeholder Internet community has been diligently working on proposals to ensure that ICANN remains accountable and the Internet remains stable, secure, and resilient absent U.S. oversight. But thinking through the details of the transition is a complex undertaking and has taken more time than originally anticipated.
According to the NTIA announcement, the contract extension will be for one year through September 2016 with the option to extend the contract for an additional three years if necessary. It is worth noting that while the contract extension is for a year, if the process takes less time NTIA and ICANN could mutually agree to end the contract earlier.
An extension of a year is necessary because drafting the transition proposals is not the end of the process. Once the proposals are complete, the ICANN Board of Directors will conduct its evaluation and perhaps request changes, which would have to be reviewed by the multi-stakeholder community and opened for additional public comment.
After the ICANN Board and the multi-stakeholder community agree on a proposal, required changes to ICANN bylaws will have to be drafted, opened for public comment, and adopted.
NTIA will also have to evaluate and assess the final proposal to determine if it meets the criteria set forth in its original March 2014 announcement.
Finally, if the DOTCOM Act is enacted, Congress would have 30 legislative days to evaluate the proposal and could act to block the transition if it deems the proposal inadequate.
Although the transition proposals are highly detailed and technical, they are critically important to everyone who uses the Internet. The transition could have grave and costly consequences for commerce, privacy, and free expression if handled poorly.
Some governments continue to press for an enhanced authority over ICANN decisions and, and by extension, in Internet governance. Granting governments, a number of whom are hostile to human rights or wish to heavily regulate or tax Internet content and commerce, a more powerful role in Internet governance would be a costly and disruptive disaster. This is the critical concern going forward, especially since many of the technical aspects of the transition have been resolved to broad community satisfaction.
Extending the contract, along with the possibility of extending it further, provides stability by maintaining U.S. oversight of ICANN while the multi-stakeholder Internet community continues to hammer out the details of the proposals and time to make sure they are implemented. While the process of negotiating the details of the transition is nearing completion, the U.S. government must remain prepared to reject any transition proposal that grants governments more influence over ICANN than they currently possess.