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U.S. Opens Internet Domain Name Management to Privatized Control

The U.S. government announced today that it will privatize Internet domain-name assignment and management operations that are currently handled by a contracted organization.

Accessing sites on the Internet is based on location scheme that requires a certain level of maintenance. Those maintenance tasks are referred to as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions. Currently, the assignment of unique identifiers gets handled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is a nonprofit entity that performs those IANA functions on behalf of the U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The NTIA, in turn, advises the president on technical policy issues.

Today, the NTIA issued an announcement that ICANN will be transitioning out of handling IANA functions. ICANN is contracted through September 30, 2015, but it's now tasked with creating plans for a "multistakeholder model" that maintains "the openness of the Internet," according to the NTIA's announcement. To that purpose, ICANN is expected to work on the proposal with groups such as "the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), the Internet Society (ISOC), the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), top level domain name operators, VeriSign, and other interested global stakeholders."

VeriSign, a Reston, Va.-based company that performs "root zone file management" of top-level domains such as .COM and .NET, won't be affected by the transition plans, according to an NTIA FAQ document (PDF). Neither will top-level domains associated with the U.S. government, such as .MIL, .GOV. and .EDU. The FAQ document explains that those domains "are not impacted by this transition as they are not part of the IANA and related root zone management functions."

Exactly what entities might own control over IANA functions isn't spelled out in the NTIA's announcement. However, it's clear that it will be controlled by a corporation of some sort, rather than a government agency.

"Transitioning NTIA out of its role marks the final phase of the privatization of the DNS as outlined by the U.S. Government in 1997," the NTIA's announcement states. It claims that the U.S. role in overseeing IANA, as well as ICANN's role, was always conceived as "temporary" and that the U.S. government has been committed to privatizing control over IANA functions since 1998. President Clinton had initiated the privatization process via a 1997 directive.

Governments will be able to comment on ICANN's multistakeholder model, but "NTIA will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government or an inter-governmental organization solution," the FAQ states.

"We are inviting governments, the private sector, civil society, and other Internet organizations from the whole world to join us in developing this transition process," stated Fadi Chehadé, ICANN's President and CEO, in a released statement. "All stakeholders deserve a voice in the management and governance of this global resource as equal partners."

The first meeting for discussing ICANN's multistakeholder transition plan is scheduled for March 23 through March 27, in Singapore, during ICANN's Public Meeting event.

U.S. government officials have opposed steps to have IANA functions internationalized under a body such as the United Nations, according to a Washington Post story. The timing of the announcement is purportedly associated with "ICANN's maturation," although it's happening in the context of worldwide outrage over U.S. National Security Agency spying, as disclosed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Privatization of IANA functions, of course, wouldn't necessarily stem widespread government spying.

IANA functions were originally contracted out by the "Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the University of Southern California (USC)," according to the NTIA's FAQ. The IANA tasks were handled as part of the Terranode Network Technology research project.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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