The U.S. government is taking a key step in relinquishing control of the internet’s addressing system, fulfilling a promise made in the 1990s.
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration said last week that it endorses a March proposal to turn full control over to a private international organization. All that remains is completing some contracts and operational testing. That’s expected to be done in the coming months.
The organization deals with matters including the assignment of internet suffixes such as “.com” and “.org” and the operation of the internet’s “root servers,” the master directories for telling web browsers where to find websites. Without them, users would have to remember a set of four numbers rather than “ap.org” to reach The Associated Press’ website, for instance.
This system has already been managed by a private organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. But the U.S. government, which funded much of the internet’s early development, has retained veto power.
ICANN praised the latest move.
“Another Milestone Towards the IANA Stewardship Transition,” the group declared in a blog.
“On March 14, 2014, 818 days ago, the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) asked ICANN to convene the global Internet community to develop proposals to transition the stewardship of the IANA functions to the multistakeholder community. It also called for enhancements to ICANN’s accountability mechanisms.
“[On June 9], NTIA released a comprehensive evaluation of the proposals. I am very pleased with NTIA’s finding that the community-developed proposals met its stringent criteria. It is an important recognition of the entire community and its tireless work to reach this important milestone.
“We appreciate NTIA’s efficient and thorough review of the transition proposals. In the meantime, ICANN staff and community members continue to plan and prepare for a timely and successful implementation of the proposals.
” We thank everyone involved for their support and hard work to see the transition through to this point. There is still more work to come, but this moment should serve as a validation of your time and effort in this process. We are one step closer to seeing the transition many of us have been working towards for years, to ensure an open, interoperable Internet for years to come.”
Although the U.S. role has been minimal over the years, many foreign governments have complained that the internet can never be truly international if the U.S. retains veto power. They have sought instead to shift responsibility to an inter-governmental body such as the U.N. International Telecommunication Union.
But business, academic and civil-society leaders balked, worried that U.N. involvement would threaten the openness that has allowed the internet to flourish. Concerns were also raised that U.N. control would give authoritarian states like China and Iran equal votes among other countries in influencing policies that affect free speech.
Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce Department, said the endorsed plan won’t replace Commerce’s role with a government-led or inter-governmental solution. Rather, ICANN will take full control after creating additional mechanisms to resolve disputes.
ICANN has participants from business, academic and other communities in addition to governments.
Some congressional Republicans oppose the end of U.S. oversight, even to a body that includes non-government representatives. They say current budget laws prevent Commerce from spending money on these efforts. But the transition itself does not require congressional approval.