Commerce Dept Approves ICANN Transition
Ted Cruz Leads Congressional Opposition
In March 2014, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its plan to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multi-stakeholder community. NTIA said the transition proposal must have broad community backing and:
- Support and enhance the multi-stakeholder 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, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) submitted a proposal for this transition. The proposal was endorsed by industry groups in an open letter 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 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.”
Earlier this month, NTIA announced its approval of ICANN’s proposal both in terms of technical performance issues aand implementation of accountability measures pushed by NTIA and others giving the stakeholder community with enumerated community powers that can be enforced against the ICANN Board to ensure that ICANN remains focused on its limited technical mission.
The announcement was praised in the internet business and civil society communities. Freedom House stated:
NTIA’s announcement brings us another step closer to ensuring that the internet remains an open platform not dominated by a single entity—whether it be a government, the private sector, or any other force. The current U.S. government oversight of the central DNS functions is largely symbolic but has given authoritarian regimes cover for demanding greater regulation of the internet through the UN and other international bodies. The current plans for privatization include strong safeguards to prevent that from happening, but close public attention will remain critical to make sure the plan unfolds as intended.
ICANN is currently holding its biannual conference in Helsinki and released the following video encouraging greater involvement in the stakeholder process.
Background and Reaction
In 1998, the NTIA partnered with ICANN to transition management of the domain name system but retained oversight of certain technical underpinnings of the domain name system (e.g., management of IP numbers) referred to as the IANA functions through a contract with ICANN.
As explained by the Congressional Research Service:
However, the IANA functions contract, while primarily administrative in nature, carries broader significance because it has conferred upon the U.S. government a “stewardship” role over ICANN and the domain name system. This stewardship role does not mean that the NTIA controls ICANN or has the authority to approve or disapprove ICANN policy decisions. Rather, the U.S. government’s authority over the IANA functions has been viewed by the Internet community as a “backstop” that serves to reassure Internet users that the U.S. government is prepared and positioned to constitute a check on ICANN under extreme circumstances (such as, for example, fiscal insolvency, failure to meet operational obligations, or capture or undue influence by a single stakeholder or by outside interests).
There has been some reflexive opposition to the ICANN transition, with Republicans quoting from Ronald Reagan’s opposition to the transfer of the Panama Canal – “We bought it. We built it. We paid for it. We intend to keep it.”
Republican Senators Ted Cruz (TX), James Lankford (OK) and Mike Lee (UT) along with Rep. Sean Duffy (Wis.) sent a letter to NTIA Assistant Secretary Lawrence Strickling, claiming the approval violated federal law since the 2016 budget prohibited use of funds to relinquish NTIA’s IANA role. Cruz and Duffy have introduced legislation to block the transfer and Cruz released the following inflammatory video on the topic.
Fact Sheet and Q&A on NTIA’s Assessment of the IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal