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Reflections on the IANA Stewardship Transition Process

September 23, 2015 by Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling

With the closing of the public comment period, we at NTIA continue to be impressed by the dedication and hard work of the many stakeholders involved in planning the transition of NTIA’s stewardship of the Internet’s domain name system. We are pleased to see so many stakeholders participate in the crafting of the plan to transition NTIA’s role related to the DNS technical functions, known as the IANA functions.  Everyone that benefits from the Internet has a stake in the success of the multistakeholder model and a voice in this process.

Today it is clear that there is a substantial amount of consensus support for the goals and principles established by the two working groups that have led the planning efforts since last year. It is equally apparent that there is consensus on many of the specific elements of the plans that were presented for comment to the global Internet multistakeholder community.

However, the comments also reveal that stakeholders have not reached consensus on all the specific tools that have been proposed to enhance the accountability of ICANN, the IANA functions operator, and that there are many questions still to be answered, both about the substance of the overall plan as well as its implementation, before the community will be ready to submit a final proposal to NTIA.

This week the Cross Community Working Group (CCWG) is meeting in Santa Monica, Calif., to continue work on how to enhance the accountability of ICANN in the absence of its contractual relationship with NTIA.

As the stakeholders convene in California, I would like to offer some thoughts as to how the CCWG might proceed as productively as possible to discuss the comments received on the CCWG proposal and continue to craft a plan that will meet the needs of ICANN’s stakeholders as well as the criteria we outlined at the beginning of the transition planning in 2014.

The most critical factor for a successful discussion this week is that stakeholders focus on bridging their differences.  This transition planning is testing the multistakeholder model as never before.  The world is watching to see if stakeholders can find a consensus way forward.  Making history is hard work and on matters this important, it is never a smooth path to reach agreement. Do not get discouraged or frustrated.  Above all, stay engaged.

With those thoughts in mind, here are some suggestions for a possible process:

First, stakeholders might consider as their first task to catalogue the many aspects of the CCWG proposal for which there is clear consensus.  There does appear to be general agreement on the fundamental principle that there is a need for increased community empowerment in the eventual absence of the NTIA contract.  Stakeholders also appear to agree on many of the specific tools needed to provide that empowerment.

Second, the stakeholders could then determine what details of the specific agreed-upon tools they need to fill out, particularly any potentially contentious implementation matters. There is not enough detail in the current draft for NTIA to conduct a thorough analysis of how the plan meets our criteria.  The questions asked by stakeholders in the public comments demonstrate significant confusion and uncertainty as to exactly how portions of the plan would be operationalized and some apprehension as to whether all possible consequences of this proposal have been fully thought through.

Third, after completing these first two tasks, stakeholders should then evaluate whether the package of detailed proposals for which there is consensus is adequate to satisfy our criteria.  For example, if this package of consensus measures were implemented, would it provide a commensurate level of accountability that stakeholders perceive has been provided over the years by the backstop of ICANN’s IANA functions contract with NTIA?

If the answers to these questions are yes, stakeholders could then consider whether to proceed to prepare a final proposal to be presented to the chartering organizations at ICANN’s October meeting in Dublin.  If the answers are no, stakeholders should then engage in a gap analysis to determine what additional measures are warranted in order to satisfy the NTIA criteria.  And then, all stakeholders need to come together to reach consensus because there is no alternative path to completing the transition.  Stakeholders should not think that they can submit competing plans to NTIA for our consideration.  We will not choose between proposals, and it is not our role to substitute our judgment for that of the community.

Finally, do not let timing pressures deter you from delivering a fully-formed, well-thought-through plan.  As I stated in Argentina in June, provide us a plan that is as simple as possible but still meets our conditions and the community’s needs.  Every day you take now to simplify the plan, resolve questions, and provide details will shorten the length of time it will take to implement the plan and increase the likelihood that the plan will preserve the security and stability of the Internet.  Putting in the extra effort now to develop the best possible consensus plan should enhance the likelihood that the transition will be completed on a timely schedule.