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Outlook 2012

5 major changes facing the Internet in 2012

Technical operations, policymaking could change significantly this year

By , Network World
January 03, 2012 09:12 AM ET

Network World - 2012 is poised to go down in Internet history as one of the most significant 12-month periods from both a technical and policy perspective since the late 1990s, when this network-of-networks stopped being a research project and became an engine of economic growth.

This year the Internet will face several milestones as it undergoes its biggest-ever technical upgrade, from Internet Protocol version 4 to version 6. In addition, key contracts that the U.S. federal government controls for Internet infrastructure and operations are being re-bid. Taken together, these events could result in monumental changes in both who operates the Internet infrastructure as well as how these operations are handled:

1. The root servers may have a new operator.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has overseen the operation of the Internet root servers since the non-profit was founded in 1998. However, ICANN's contract is due to expire in March, and a new U.S.-based organization could end up in charge of this critical technical function.

The Internet's 13 root server farms are at the top of the DNS hierarchy, which matches domain names with their corresponding IP addresses for looking up Web sites. The operation of the root server farms is overseen by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which reports to ICANN.

Instead of renewing ICANN's contract for the IANA function, the U.S. government has opened up the bid to other U.S.-based organizations. On Nov. 10, 2011, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issued an open bid for the IANA function. Bids were due Dec. 12 and a contract is expected to be awarded in the first quarter of this year. The new contract for the IANA function will last from April 1, 2012 until March 31, 2015.

2. A new company could operate the .com registry.

Verisign has operated the .com domain since 1999. The .com domain is the Internet's most popular top-level domain, with about 100 million .com names registered as of last month. To put this figure in perspective, the Internet has a total of 220 million domain names registered in 280 top-level domains. The number of .com names dwarfs every other domain: It's more than five times greater than those registered in the second most popular extension, which is Germany's .de.

Verisign signed an agreement with ICANN on March 1, 2006 to operate .com, and that contract expires on Nov. 30, 2012.

One positive indicator for Verisign: Last June, ICANN renewed the company's contract to operate the .net registry, which has about 12 million registered names. Verisign will run the .net registry until 2017.

3. Up to 1,000 new top-level domains will start being introduced.

ICANN plans to launch a new program Jan. 12 to add hundreds of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .hotel and .paris to the Internet. This controversial plan has been under discussion for six years, and it is finally scheduled to begin. ICANN's new gTLD program represents the biggest change to the Internet's naming system since 1998, when ICANN was formed.

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