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Q and A on IANA Stewardship Transition

Date: 
August 16, 2016

WHAT IS THE IANA STEWARDSHIP TRANSITION?

The IANA stewardship transition represents the final step in the U.S. government’s long-standing commitment to privatize the Internet’s domain name system. For the last 18 years, the United States has been working with the global Internet multistakeholder community to establish a stable and secure multistakeholder model of Internet governance that ensures that the private sector, not governments, takes the lead in setting the future direction of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS). To help achieve this goal, NTIA in 1998 partnered with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based nonprofit, to transition technical DNS coordination and management functions to the private sector. NTIA’s current stewardship role was intended to be temporary.

HOW IS NTIA PROPOSING TO DO THIS?

In March 2014, NTIA initiated the final step in the privatization of the DNS by asking ICANN to convene Internet stakeholders to develop a plan to transition NTIA’s IANA stewardship role to the Internet multistakeholder community. NTIA said at that time that the transition proposal must have broad community backing and:

  • support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
  • maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
  • meet the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and
  • maintain the openness of the Internet.

In addition, NTIA also said it would not accept a plan that replaced NTIA’s role with a government-led or intergovernmental organization solution.

In March 2016, ICANN sent NTIA the proposal developed by the Internet multistakeholder community. The plan addresses both the technical performance of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions as well as enhancements to ICANN’s accountability.

WHAT ARE THE IANA FUNCTIONS?

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions are a set of interdependent technical functions that enable the efficient operation of the Internet domain name system. The three primary IANA functions include (1) the coordination of the assignment of technical Internet protocol parameters; (2) the processing of change requests to the authoritative root zone file of the DNS; and (3) the allocation of Internet numbering resources.

WHAT IS NTIA’S ROLE IN THE IANA FUNCTIONS?

NTIA’s legacy role related to the IANA functions is largely clerical. NTIA verifies that ICANN followed established policies and procedures in processing changes to the root zone file before authorizing Verisign, the root zone file maintainer, to implement them. The root zone file is the authoritative registry containing the lists of names and addresses for all top level domains, effectively the Internet’s phone book.  NTIA has no operational role with respect to the protocol parameter and numbering functions.

WHAT ARE THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS RELATED TO THIS TRANSITION?

After a thorough review, NTIA announced on June 9, 2016, that the IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal developed by the global Internet multistakeholder community met the criteria NTIA outlined in March 2014.

Following that announcement, NTIA asked ICANN to deliver an implementation planning status report by August 12, 2016, to gauge whether all the transition-related work will be completed prior to the contract’s expiration. On August 12, ICANN reported that it has or will be able to complete all the necessary work before September 30, 2016.

Separately, in early July, ICANN and Verisign successfully concluded a 90-day test of a parallel root zone management system to ensure the production of the root zone occurs in a stable and secure manner in the absence of NTIA. This will be the only technical operational change associated with the transition.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

NTIA has thoroughly reviewed the implementation report provided by ICANN. We informed ICANN today that based on that review and barring any significant impediment, NTIA intends to allow the IANA functions contract to expire as of October 1.

WHY IS THE UNITED STATES TRANSITIONING ITS STEWARDSHIP ROLE RELATED TO THE DNS?

The IANA stewardship transition will help maintain the global open Internet by supporting and enhancing the multistakeholder approach to Internet governance. The multistakeholder approach is a key reason why the Internet has grown and thrived. This approach calls for bringing stakeholders together to help solve policy and technical challenges on a consensus basis. These stakeholders include the innovators, engineers, businesses, technical experts, civil society groups, governments, and others who have helped make the Internet a dynamic engine for innovation, economic growth, and free expression that users across the globe depend on today. Completing the privatization of the Internet Domain Name System ensures the leadership of the private sector in making decisions related to the technical underpinning of the Internet.

WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS NOW?

NTIA’s largely clerical role related to the DNS is no longer needed given the maturity of the private-sector led Internet ecosystem, including ICANN. At the same time, international support for the multistakeholder approach has been boosted by our 2014 announcement. NTIA’s legacy role has long been a source of irritation to foreign governments and prompted calls by some governments to push for the United Nations, International Telecommunication Union, or another intergovernmental organization to take over stewardship of the DNS. While support for multistakeholder governance has grown among nations in recent years, these calls for replacing the multistakeholder model with a multilateral, government-run approach will only grow louder if the U.S. government fails to complete the transition.

The Internet’s stakeholders recognize this, which is why there is widespread support for the transition among businesses, the Internet industry, and public interest groups. In May 2016, several businesses and industry groups released an open letter in support of the transition proposal. It was co-signed by Amazon, Cisco, the Chamber of Commerce, CloudFlare, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, Dell, Facebook, Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the Information Technology Industry Council, Intel, the Internet Association, the Internet Infrastructure Coalition, Microsoft, the Software and Information Industry Association, and USCIB.

Additionally, civil society leaders such as the Center for Democracy and Technology, Human Rights Watch, Public Knowledge, and others also have expressed support for the transition and the proposal, saying  “executing upon the IANA transition is the best way to ensure the continued functionality of the global Internet and to protect the free flow of information so essential to human rights protection.”

WHY NOT CONDUCT A TRIAL OF THE PROPOSAL BEFORE ENDING THE IANA FUNCTIONS CONTRACT?

Given that ICANN’s day-to-day operations do not change under the plan, and the extensive work by the multistakeholder community on the implementation of the plan over the past two years,  testing of ICANN’s governance model is unnecessary.  The mechanisms and bodies that are the basis for the proposed accountability enhancements have been tested for years in the Internet community.  The multistakeholder community has already subjected its plan to a rigorous set of stress tests to analyze how the plan would operate in response to scenarios involving financial crisis or insolvency, legal actions, or failures of the ICANN Board or staff to meet operational expectations and failures of accountability.  These accountability enhancements act as a safeguard and tools of last resort.  As such, there is no expectation that the community will need to exercise these powers in the next several years; indeed, the hope is that they are never exercised.  Accordingly, these powers are not conducive to the notion of real-life “testing” in the near future, if ever. 

The only technical operational change associated with the transition is to remove NTIA’s current root zone change verification and authorization role. ICANN and Verisign already conducted a 90-day test of a parallel root zone management system to ensure the production of the root zone occurs in a stable and secure manner in the absence of NTIA.  That testing successfully concluded in July.  Other items directly related to replacing NTIA’s role under the IANA functions contract, specifically the legal agreements necessary to establish accountability and operational performance requirements, have been finalized or will be completed by September 30.

WILL THIS IMPACT AVERAGE USERS?

No. The domain name system will continue to operate basically the same way it does today and users will not be affected.

WILL THIS AFFECT THE DOMAINS THAT THE U.S. GOVERNMENT OPERATES SUCH AS .GOV AND .MIL?

The operation of and responsibility for .mil and .gov are not impacted by this transition as they are not part of the IANA functions contract or related root zone management responsibilities. Further, per the policies, procedures, and practices in place, .mil and .gov cannot be transferred without explicit agreement first from the current administrators of those domains – namely, the U.S. government. However, to address concerns that have been raised, NTIA and ICANN have formally reaffirmed that the U.S. government is the administrator of .mil and .gov and that any changes made to .mil or .gov can only be made with the express written approval of the U.S. government.

IS THE U.S. GOVERNMENT GIVING UP CONTROL OF THE INTERNET AS SOME HAVE CLAIMED?

The United States does not “control the Internet.” No one controls the Internet. It is a decentralized network of networks that has operated with the cooperation and through the consensus of a wide array of stakeholders, predominantly from the private sector. This transition will not affect that fact.

HOW WILL THE TRANSITION IMPACT U.S. INTERNET POLICY GOING FORWARD?

While the U.S. government will no longer be involved in processing changes to the root zone file, it will continue to play an active leadership role in advocating for a free and open Internet within ICANN, as a member of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), and in other international venues.

WHAT ABOUT CONCERNS THAT FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS COULD TAKE OVER THE INTERNET IF U.S. GIVES UP ITS STEWARDSHIP ROLE?

The transition plan directly addresses the concern that governments might attempt to limit a free and open Internet or seek to transfer control of ICANN to an intergovernmental organization, such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). In the development of the IANA stewardship transition proposal, the multistakeholder community specifically considered the potential of capture of ICANN processes by one or several groups of stakeholders, including governments. The community’s new powers to challenge Board decisions and enforce decisions in court protect against any one party or group of interests from inappropriately influencing ICANN. In conducting the review of the transition proposal, NTIA also retained an expert panel of corporate governance experts who reviewed the ICANN Accountability proposal, including assessing any risk of capture.  In their assessment, the experts found the prospects for a takeover of ICANN by a single government, a group of governments, or one or more economic actors to be extremely remote.

Under the transition proposal, there is nothing that increases the role of governments over the DNS or ICANN as an organization. The ICANN bylaws retain the prohibition on government officials serving as voting board members.  In addition, governments remain advisory through the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) to provide input to the Board in the normal course of business.  And, as is currently the case, the Board can reject GAC advice.  Today, the Board does give special consideration to consensus GAC advice.  The proposal codifies this current practice through a bylaw change that limits this Board deference to consensus advice defined in the bylaws as advice to which no government formally objects.  The changed threshold for rejecting GAC consensus advice from 50 percent to 60 percent only applies to advice to which no government, including the United States, has objected.  Further, any potential participation by the GAC in the new Empowered Community will be at a level commensurate with other stakeholders.  Notably, the GAC cannot unilaterally exercise the community powers.  Moreover, the bylaws expressly prohibit the GAC from participating in the community powers when the issue in contention is a Board action on GAC advice.

DID THE U.S. GOVERNMENT CONDUCT AN ANALYSIS OF THE IMPACT ON COMPETITION OF THE IANA STEWARDSHIP TRANSITION?

In its decision to move forward with the transition at this time, the U.S. Government did not identify any significant competitive issues relating to the proposed transition.

WILL U.S. COMPETITION LAWS APPLY TO ICANN AFTER EXPIRATION OF THE IANA FUNCTIONS CONTRACT?

U.S. competition laws would apply to the conduct of ICANN and its constituent groups in their performance of the IANA functions to the same extent as those laws now apply to other private entities, and thus these laws can serve to discourage ICANN and its constituent groups from engaging in anticompetitive conduct that would harm Internet users.