The US government on Saturday ended its formal oversight role over the internet, handing over management of the online address system to a global non-profit entity.
The US Commerce Department announced that its contract had expired with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which manages the internet’s so-called “root zone.”
That leaves ICANN as a self-regulating organization that will be operated by the internet’s “stakeholders” — engineers, academics, businesses, non-government and government groups.
The move is part of a decades-old plan by the US to “privatize” the internet, and backers have said it would help maintain its integrity around the world.
US and ICANN officials have said the contract had given Washington a symbolic role as overseer or the internet’s “root zone” where new online domains and addresses are created.
But critics, including some US lawmakers, argued that this was a “giveaway” by Washington that could allow authoritarian regimes to seize control.
A last-ditch effort by critics to block the plan — a lawsuit filed by four US states — failed when a Texas federal judge refused to issue an injunction to stop the transition.
Lawrence Strickling, who heads the Commerce Department unit which has managed these functions, issued a brief statement early Saturday confirming the transition of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).
“As of October 1, 2016, the IANA functions contract has expired,” he said.
Stephen Crocker, ICANN’s board chairman and one of the engineers who developed the early internet protocols, welcomed the end of the contract.
“This transition was envisioned 18 years ago, yet it was the tireless work of the global Internet community, which drafted the final proposal, that made this a reality,” he said in a statement.
This is a very welcome step.
Authoritarian Governments around the world have been trying to get more of a say in how the Internet runs. They have tried to have the ITU takeover some functions, which would be a disaster.
ICANN is far from perfect but over 18 years it has managed to expand the number of generic TLDs from seven to over 1,000 and has a multi-stakeholder model that works, albeit slowly. At ICANN Governments do not get to decide anything. At best they can give advice. This is how it should be.
The problem is that having ICANN run the IANA function (the master list of TLDs, IP addresses and protocols) under contract to the US Government meant that other Governments used that to demand if the USG gets a veto (in reality it was an administrative check) over TLDs, they should all have the same power. By freeing ICANN from the US Government, there is no longer a legitimate cause for authoritarian Governments to rally around.
The Internet has been the world changing success it has, because it has not been under Government control. Governments can pass laws that affect ISPs and Internet users in their own countries, but no Government or Governments can pass laws dictating how the Internet as a whole runs. The Internet community does this through technical groups such as the Internet Engineering Taskforce, Internet Architecture Board and more policy focused groups such as the Regional Internet Address Registries, country code managers and ICANN.
Many folks from New Zealand have been engaged in the work required to improve the accountability of ICANN, so that it could transition from US Government stewardship. It is great to see the transition finally occur.