IANA Transition and ICANN Accountability

IANA Transition

In March 2014, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) – part of the U.S. Department of Commerce – announced its intention to relinquish part of its role in managing the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) to the global multi-stakeholder community.

NTIA asked the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based nonprofit group, to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to replace NTIA’s current stewardship over the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

Pressure to let go of the final vestiges of U.S. authority over the web address system had been building for over a decade, but grew after the Snowden NSA revelations in summer 2013.

NTIA mulled the question of how best to transition these responsibilities for about a year and a half, and sought input from a diverse group of stakeholders and experts.

In July 2015, the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordinating Group (ICG) released its proposal to “Transition the Stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to the Global Multistakeholder Community.”

On August 17, the Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence Strickling announced that the US government would be extending the IANA contract with ICANN through September 30, 2016. This extension was expected and has been welcomed by the stakeholder communities. It does not reflect the community's inability to follow through on its promises; rather, it sets out a more realistic timeline for refining proposals and getting endorsement from the ICANN community. 

The public comment period on the proposal closed on September 8.

ICANN Accountability

The other major piece of news is the public consultation over the second draft proposal from the working group dedicated to enhancing the accountability of ICANN. The two proposals are closely linked: the names community’s transition proposal is dependent on the overall accountability changes for ICANN that the Accountability working group is proposing.

What the names community is proposing is an ICANN affiliate model that would make ICANN the steward, contracting party, and operator of the IANA functions all at once (at least initially). The checks and balances being proposed are vital to the future of the IANA functions and their transparency, neutrality, and effectiveness.

Potential Stumbling Blocks

Key stakeholders have been generally supportive of the need for transition of the IANA functions and the processes adopted, but it’s worth pointing out several potential roadblocks to success. What follows is a list of brief summary these potential hiccups.

-          Including a mention of “human rights” in the transition to a multi-stakeholder model is likely to incite the criticism of some in the international arena. To include it might be politicizing an issue unnecessarily.

-          There was concern that Congressional involvement might add an unnecessary political roadblock to a smooth transition of IANA functions to the multi-stakeholder community, in the same way that the Iran deal has run into problems. Most agree that if industry could put forward a resounding message of “this is good for business,” Congress would be more willing to accept.

-          Voting distribution within the Sole Member model – the new community empowerment mechanism that provides the basis for the system being adopted – could pose a challenge. The worry is that as proposed, the weighting of votes would empower certain parts of the ICANN community more than others. If, for instance, the proposal gave some of ICANN’s Supporting Organizations (SOs) or Advisory Committees (ACs) more voting power than others, would their effectiveness as communities be adversely affected?

-          Another potential stumbling block is that at least at the outset, Post-Transition IANA (PTI) will have ICANN as its sole member and PTI “will therefore be a controlled affiliate of ICANN.” The choice of a “legally separate model” over a “functionally separate model” could create some confusion in the future, if PTI ever chooses to separate.