NTIA OK With Domain Name Hand-Off

The Obama Administration's telecom policy advisory arm has concluded that the multinational, multistakeholder plan for overseeing internet domain naming functions meets its criteria for handing over oversight.

Back in March, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) said it hoped to have a decision by June on whether or not it approved of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plan to transition stewardship of the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), which oversees domain naming conventions, from the U.S. to a multistakeholder model. NTIA succeeded with room to spare, but there remains work to be done.

The Obama Administration decided it was time to migrate IANA oversight to a global stakeholder model rather than have any one government do so. 

The current NTIA contract with ICANN expires at the end of September, but there remain issues with testing the logistics of the handoff—the technical aspects of how the U.S. role in verifying of new names will be handled. ICANN will get back to NTIA Aug. 12 on how that is going and whether the handoff can be achieved by the end of September or whether they need more time—the contract can be extended.

“The Internet’s multistakeholder community has risen to the challenge we gave them to develop a transition proposal that would ensure the Internet’s domain name system will continue to operate as seamlessly as it currently does,” said assistant secretary for communications and information and NTIA administrator Lawrence Strickling in announcing NTIA's signoff. 

“The plan developed by the community will strengthen the multistakeholder approach that has helped the Internet to grow and thrive, while maintaining the stability, security, and openness that users across the globe depend on today.”

Among the criteria NTIA set, and says were met, include:

•             "Support and enhance the multistakeholder 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."

NTIA says the transition plan also does not constitute replacing U.S. oversight with that of any other government-led group, another NTIA criterion.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, but particularly Republicans, are concerned with the handoff and will be vetting NTIA's vetting process.

To that end, and with the looming NTIA decision, former presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) teed up a bill this week that would require Congress' approval before NTIA could make the hand-off.

A rider has also been added to an appropriations bill that would block the hand-off.

Commerce secretary Penny Pritzker signaled that the NTIA signoff was a mile marker, rather than the finish line. "Today’s announcement marks an important milestone in the U.S. government’s 18-year effort to privatize the Internet’s domain name system,” Pritzker said. “This transition ensures that the Internet continues to flourish as a platform for innovation, economic growth and free expression. I want to thank the Internet’s diverse multistakeholder community, which includes businesses, technical experts, and civil society groups, for their dedication and hard work.”

For a primer on what the hand-off is and what still needs to happen before it can be completed, go here.

“With this report, NTIA clears the way for expiration of the IANA contract, leaving ICANN under the control of the international private sector stakeholders it was designed to serve,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, a member of the ICANN working group that came up with the accountability proposal in the transition plan.

“Some members of Congress have lingering doubts about this transition, but the protections are in place – to include ICANN's headquarters remaining in the U.S. – to ensure that free expression and free enterprise will prevail in the domain name system at the core of the Internet.”  

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.