What's it all about, anyway?
The US government was closely involved in the creation of the internet. Historically, therefore, the US has played a unique role in the internet's governance, acting as steward of the IANA function. IANA is an administrative body with various responsibilities, including the management of changes to the domain name extensions listed in the root of the Domain Name System. So, for example, SIDN is registered with IANA as the manager of the .nl domain. Details of the name servers where you can query the .nl zone file are registered with IANA as well.
IANA also has an administrative role in the allocation of IP addresses and in relation to the so-called 'protocol parameters'. The IANA function is currently performed by ICANN on the basis of an agreement with the US government. However, in March 2014, it was announced that, when the current agreement comes to an end, the US wants to transfer its stewardship role to the ‘internet community’. ICANN was accordingly asked to facilitate the handover process.
What's happened since?
Within the internet community, there are three distinct sub-communities: domain names, numbers and the IETF. Because each of those sub-communities has its own interests, ICANN decided on an approach which involved each sub-community following its own process and drawing up a transition plan for its own part of the IANA function. A Coordination Group would then integrate the three plans where necessary.
And that is what has been going on since. The numbers plan and the IETF plan were finished quite quickly. The domain names sub-community took considerably longer to come up with something, but agreed on a proposal in summer 2015. Fortunately, the plans turned out to be compatible, meaning that the Coordination Group didn't have too much difficulty marrying the three elements together by September.
So why hasn't the transition happened yet?
From the start of the process, it was clear that the transition would lead to the US losing its influence over ICANN. Historically, the US has always had the power to take the IANA contract away from ICANN if it stepped out of line. Transition would put an end to that situation. A lot of people also doubted whether ICANN, as currently constituted, was actually capable of handling the responsibility on its own.
With a view to eradicating such doubts, the ICANN community has been working hard on a plan to improve the organisation's accountability. The work has been going on in parallel with the transition planning and now appears to be almost complete. The working group with responsibility for this huge undertaking recently reached consensus about its proposal.
That proposal now needs to go back to the community one last time for comment and at the same time to the various blood groups within ICANN for formal agreement. Assuming that agreement is forthcoming and that no feedback with fundamental implications is received, the proposal will be presented to the ICANN Board for approval. With so much pressure to bring the process to a conclusion, and with all the blood groups and the Board having been actively involved in developing the plan, the expectation is that internal approval will indeed be forthcoming.
After that, the accountability plan and the transition plan will be sent to the US government for its approval. At that point, things become much less predictable, because not all Americans are too keen on giving away powers that have traditionally been theirs. The proposals will need the consent of the US Congress, which is by no means a foregone conclusion.
If all goes well
If all goes well, the transition could take place at the end of September 2016. Supervision of ICANN's performance of the IANA function will then pass from the US government to the multistakeholder internet community. Meanwhile, changes will be introduced to ensure that ultimate control over ICANN remains with the various stakeholders themselves. It will be interesting to see how these developments influence day-to-day operations.
SIDN's involvement and more info
As manager of one of the biggest top-level domains in the world, SIDN considers it important to be actively involved in global developments surrounding the internet's infrastructure. SIDN's Roelof Meijer (Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability) and Maarten Simon (Cross-Community Working Group on Naming Related Functions) have actively contributed to the processes described above. If you would like to know more about this subject, by all means get in touch with us.
Detailed information about the process and the plans themselves are available at:
- https://www.ianacg.org/ (website of the Stewardship Transition Coordination Group)
- https://community.icann.org/display/acctcrosscomm/CCWG+on+Enhancing+ICANN+Accountability (website of the CC Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability)