The Americans plan to relinquish control of the IANA functions
A few days before the recent ICANN meeting in Singapore (24-27 March 2014), the US government surprised the world with a press release headed 'NTIA announces intent transition key internet domain name functions'. The central message was that the Americans plan to relinquish control of the IANA functions and thus the root of the global domain name system (DNS). ICANN is to be given responsibility for developing a structure to take over the role currently played by the US National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA).
America’s one condition: control will not be handed over to other governments
The US did not specify how the NTIA should be replaced, but laid down a number of general ground rules, such as that the body that succeeds the NTIA should have the general support of the internet community, that the stability and reliability of the DNS should not be threatened and that the open nature of the internet should be preserved. The only specific requirement made was that the solution devised must not lead to any other government or group of governments assuming control.
ICANN meeting discusses a variety of issues
The NTIA’s statement therefore left open a wide variety of possible ways of organising administration of the root. The question of the IANA functions consequently arose during numerous sessions at the ICANN meeting. As a result, there was a lot of discussion, most of it taking place in parallel, covering a wide range of topics, some more closely linked to the central issue than others. Matters were not helped by the fact that ICANN did not immediately appear willing to take the lead on the issue – a consequence of the organisation’s determination to avoid any suggestion that it is working to a predetermined agenda or acting in an authoritarian manner. Many of the discussions therefore ranged well beyond the transfer of the NTIA’s responsibility for the IANA functions.
Not clear exactly what the IANA functions entail
It also emerged that many people are not entirely clear about what the IANA functions actually entail or what role the NTIA plays in those functions. Such matters have not always been clarified to outsiders. The content of the IANA contract (PDF) agreed between the US Department of Commerce and ICANN in 2012 does describe that role. However, there is also a contract between that same Department of Commerce and VeriSign, regarding the technical management of the root, which may also be relevant to the discussions.
Many questions about supervision of ICANN’s management
Ultimately, the key issue is who will in the future supervise ICANN’s administrative and technical management of the root (some technical aspects of which are contracted out to VeriSign). The difficulty is that, whoever supervises ICANN must have the ability to sanction the organisation if for any reason it fails to perform its role satisfactorily. To whom should the power of sanction be given, and subject to what conditions? What form should the potential sanctions take? And how do you ensure that the power of sanction is used only as intended? It will be very difficult to find answers to such questions which the whole world can support. ICANN has quite a task on its hands, therefore.
Discussion must first focus on the process for finding a solution
Unfortunately, the ICANN meeting did little to clarify what will happen next. During the opening session, ICANN’s CEO Fadi Chehadé said that, for the time being, discussion should focus on the process for finding a solution. One of the speakers from the floor went as far as to suggest that the first step should be devising a process for devising a process.
NETmundial meeting will hopefully shed more light on the process and the direction to be taken
In the near future, a process proposal will be put forward. Ideas can be submitted to ICANN at the e-mail address email@example.com. Whether ICANN will actually make use of the incoming suggestions remains to be seen. Personally, I continue to believe that a plan is already in place. And, to be honest, I think that’s a good thing. Hopefully the NETmundial meeting in Sao Paolo will shed more light on the process and the direction to be taken.