The IANA stewardship transition involves the United States giving up some of its control over the working of the internet. Needless to say, that is a controversial move within the US. And, with elections looming, many politicians are reluctant to back it. The NTIA, the US government agency currently responsible for the stewardship, cannot relinquish its responsibility without the approval of Congress. It was the NTIA that set the transition process in motion and the agency seems happy with the proposals now on the table. So far, however, the NTIA has only had to clear its plans with a Democratic administration. Now it has to get them past Congress, where there is a Republican majority. At the very least, the NTIA is going to have to do a lot of explaining and persuading. And, because Congress recesses in mid-July, there are only a few weeks to secure approval.
Implementation of the proposal – which is actually four interlinked proposals – will mean making a lot of changes. It implies not only setting up a new mechanism for stewardship of IANA, but also reforming ICANN to consolidate the multistakeholder community's influence over the organisation. So, for example, a new legal entity will need to be created, to which ICANN can delegate the IANA functions. In addition, a Customer Standing Committee has to be convened and an Independent Review Panel set up to hear appeals. All those things will involve a great deal of legal and other work, and a great deal of liaison with the community. Yet the time horizon is extremely short. And everyone is working with the added pressure brought by knowing that Congress won't endorse the proposal if any significant loose ends remain.
Will we make it?
To a large extent, our ability to get everything done in time depends on the political will and on developments within the US government, at Congress and in the election battle. If the IANA transition becomes an election issue, things are likely to get very difficult. Giving away some of America's control over the internet is much harder to defend than attack. And Senator Ted Cruz has recently made negative comments about ICANN on several occasions. His views are significantly influenced by a conservative think tank that was involved in formulating the proposal. On top of everything, there is the fact that ICANN's multistakeholder model is not known for its speedy decision-making or implementation. So it looks as if things are going to go to the wire.
What if we don't make 30 September?
It's hard to predict what might happen if Congressional approval of the proposal isn't forthcoming, or takes a long time, or if implementation proceeds too slowly for the NTIA's liking. If we run out of time, the NTIA may extend its current contract with ICANN. That's also the most likely outcome if the proposal is rejected by the NTIA or Congress, or if it's referred back to ICANN with the request that additional conditions are met. The latter scenario is unlikely to go down well with the community, and securing support for changes will not be easy. And there's no guarantee that a revised proposal would subsequently be politically acceptable. That of course depends on the fickle tides of US politics and the results of the forthcoming elections. Given the potential implications of delay, it is very much to be hoped that transition can be realised by 30 September this year, however challenging that may be.