ICANN stewardship transition plan sent to US government

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The plan was finalized this week at an ICANN conference at Marrakech, Morocco

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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has submitted Thursday a plan for ending U.S. oversight of key technical Internet functions in favor of a global multi-stakeholder governance model.

The complex new proposals aim to create an oversight body called the "empowered community" for enforcing community powers and include tighter rules for changes to certain bylaws of the organization. The Governmental Advisory Committee, consisting of representatives of governments, will continue to have an advisory role, though it will be better placed if it works in consensus, according to a document circulated by ICANN.

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, which include responsibility for the coordination of the DNS (Domain Name System) root, IP addressing, and other Internet protocol resources, are operated by ICANN under contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce. There have been demands that the department should cede its residual control as the Internet has expanded outside the U.S.

Many governments have also talked about the need for a say in the running of the Internet, a controversial issue for many analysts as giving a role to governments raises concerns about their meddling and even censorship.

The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency located in the Department of Commerce, said in March 2014 it planned to let its contract with ICANN to operate key domain-name functions expire in September 2015, passing the oversight of the agency to a global governance model.

The Department of Commerce said in August last year that the transition was being delayed to September this year as the Internet global multi-stakeholder community needed time to complete its work, have the plan reviewed by the U.S. government and then put it into action if approved. The department said it had the option to extend the contract beyond 2016, for three additional years if needed.

Concern that control of the Internet could pass to governments, some of them dictatorial, has led to considerable hesitation about the plan of the NTIA.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill in June last year, called the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters Act (DOTCOM Act), which requires the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to certify to Congress, among other things, that under the transition plan the Internet will stay open, not dominated by governments alone, and the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet domain name system would be maintained.

The package submitted to the U.S. combines information on the technical requirements for the transition and proposals for enhancements to ICANN's accountability.

The U.S. will review the plan to make sure it meets NTIA's criteria, ICANN said in a statement. If the plan is approved, its implementation is expected to be completed prior to the expiry of the contract between NTIA and ICANN in September. The delegates to the conference at Marrakech, Morocco, are aiming to complete the transition soon just in case the U.S. Presidential election in November this year throws up a new leader with different ideas on the transition.

“Today's outcome confirms the strength of the multistakeholder process in tackling issues important to the continued growth and evolution of the Internet,” said Kathy Brown, President and CEO of Internet Society in a statement. “The community now has a responsibility to ensure the plan is faithfully implemented in a timely way.” The plan for reforming ICANN’s accountability mechanisms also got the backing of the Governmental Advisory Committee.

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