U.S. to Turn Over Control of the Internet

Icann will begin work on the transition later this month

The United States will begin a process to relinquish its administrative control over of key function of the Internet by September 2015, federal officials said late this afternoon.

Since the Internet was founded, the U.S. has managed the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which oversees the catalog of unique IP addresses that makes the Internet possible.

Under U.S. control, the Internet to date has thrived as a free and open marketplace for the world. But in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations of U.S. spying, foreign countries, even those that have been historical allies, have lost trust in the U.S.

Recently, the European Union digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes called for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' close ties to the U.S. to end.

"Recent revelations of large-scale surveillance have called into question the stewardship of the U.S. when it comes to Internet governance. So given the U.S.-centric model of Internet governance currently in place, it is necessary to broker a smooth transition to a more global model while at the same time protecting the underlying values of open multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet," said a European Commission statement.

An official with Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration insisted that the plans to turn over the key Internet name functions to the global community was "not in response to any blowback" from the NSA surveillance scandal. "The U.S. has always envisioned its role would be temporary," the official said.

Between now and Sept. 30, 2015, when the IANA contract ends, Icann will convene a discussion with the global Internet community, including governments, private companies, and individuals to begin the transition from U.S. control.

"I welcome the beginning of this transition. The global community will be included in full," said Fadi Chehade, the president of Icann, who will begin the process at the next meeting in Singapore on March 24.

U.S. officials said that in order to relinquish final control of the critical part of the Internet that it will not accept a proposal that replaces it with a government or intergovernment solution. Icann's final proposal to take over the IANA functions must meet four principles: it must support multi-stakeholder model; it must maintain security, stability and resiliency of domain name system; it needs to meet the needs and expectations of IANA's global customers; and it must maintain the openness of the internet.

"The U.S. responded to intense international pressure. By making this announcement, the U.S. is trying to make sure the transition happens on its own terms, and that the U.S. is setting the rules for the transition," said Greg Shatan, a partner with Reed Smith who co-heads the firm's Internet, and domain practice. 

Advertisers are worried that the administration is jumping the gun by making a decision to cede control before understanding how the Internet oversight will be managed in the future.

"There needs to be oversight and Commerce had that responsibility. No one should back away from that until there is a clear structure that will ensure the protection of consumers and legitimate business interests," said Dan Jaffe, evp of the Association of National Advertisers. 

Advertisers are still smarting over Icann's decision to roll out hundreds of new generic top level domain names without putting in place satisfactory protections for brand names.