The GovLab SCAN – Special Issue – Reactions to the NTIA Announcement on Globalizing IANA Functions

On Friday March 14th, the United States government, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce, issued a formal announcement that it intends to transition key Internet domain name functions to the “global multistakeholder community.” The NTIA has historically contracted with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to carry out the “IANA functions” (IANA stands for the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority). In this role, the NTIA has acted as the “steward of the Domain Name System,” a largely symbolic and non-operational duty. The announcement is significant for how it addresses global tensions around the lack of trust in the US government as the pre-eminent actor that oversees global Internet policy. While ICANN will continue to carry out its functions as it always has, what really changes is the symbolic role that provides ICANN’s accountability and legitimacy. ICANN has been asked to “convene the global multistakeholder community” in crafting a transition plan whereby ICANN’s oversight and accountability would be provided by that “global multistakeholder community.”

There are many nuances to this announcement. For example, while the NTIA contracts with ICANN to perform the IANA functions, the NTIA also has a cooperative agreement with VeriSign to perform root zone management functions. Further, ICANN operates under an “Affirmation of Commitments” (the AoC) between itself and the US Department of Commerce. This AoC will not be terminated as a result of the NTIA announcement.

ICANN will start the process of crafting the transition plan in Singapore where it will hold its 49th meeting next week.

  • See the ICANN press release here.
  • See ICANN’s “Frequently Asked Questions” here.
  • See the NTIA’s “Frequently Asked Questions” here.
  • See ICANN’s proposed Public Consultation Process for convening global stakeholders here.
  • See the reactions of ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chehadé here, and ICANN Board Chair Steve Crocker here.

We have captured and summarized some of the main reactions and points of discussion from around the world below. They are grouped by direct reactions and more descriptive arguments written on the subject.


Direct Reactions

APC welcomes NTIA announcement on transition of key internet domain name functionsAssociation for Progressive Communications. March 15, 2014.

  • The APC welcomes the announcement from the NTIA, noting that “[t]he fact that a single government currently plays this role, even if it has not been a particularly ‘hands-on’ role, has been cause for concern and debate among governments and other stakeholders for more than a decade.” The APC recommends that ICANN, in designing this transition, “look beyond its own internal multi-stakeholder processes in bringing together the larger community for the necessary consultations on how this transition should be undertaken.”

Berkens, Michael. Strickling Refines Last Weeks Announcement On ICANN: No Government-Led Solution Will Be AcceptedThe Domains. March 19, 2014.

  • In an announcement made on Wednesday, NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling clarified the US government’s Friday (March 14) announcement regarding its decision to cede oversight of ICANN. According to Strickling, “this announcement in no way diminishes [the US government’s] commitment to preserving the Internet as an engine for economic growth and innovation” and that the US government is not abandoning the Internet and would continue to play a role post-transition through ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Endorsements of the IANA Globalization Process.” ICANN.org. March, 2014.

  • In this document, ICANN has compiled a list of endorsements of the US NTIA announcement. The document will be updated as more endorsements emerge. The document currently contains endorsements from: U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller; U.S. Senator John Thune; U.S. Senator Marco Rubio; U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo; African Union Commission (AUC); International Telecommunications Union (ITU); European Commission; Australian Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull; United Nations (UN); Association for Progressive Communications (APC); Article 19; Brookings Institute; Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT); Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA); Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA); Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organization (TAG-Org); Afilias; AT&T; .au Domain Administration (auDA); Blacknight; Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA); Cisco; Google; Microsoft; Neustar; and Verizon.

Internet Governance – Joint statement by Laurent Fabius and Fleur PellerinFrance Diplomatie. March 18, 2014.

  • The French government welcomes the US government announcement. It emphasis in its reaction that “other steps must follow, particularly so that the role of nations sharing the same principles and objectives is not limited to consultation within ICANN, making the legal structure of this forum more international and promoting coordination between entities dealing with Internet governance.”

Internet Technical Leaders Welcome IANA Globalization ProgressNumber Resource Organization. March 14, 2014.

  • The leaders of the technical organizations and operators responsible for the coordination of Internet technical infrastructure (the IETF, IAB, RIRs, ccTLD registries, ICANN, ISOC, and W3C) together issued a statement endorsing the “globalization of ICANN.” Notably, these organizations represent communities that have a very clear understanding of what the IANA functions require for effective operation. Also notable – the leaders issuing this statement argue that “the Internet technical community is strong enough to continue its role, while assuming the stewardship function as it transitions from the US Government.”

Kopan, Tal. Sarah Palin pans ICANN planPolitico. March 19, 2014.

  • Sarah Palin is particularly skeptical of the US government’s intention to cede oversight of ICANN. According to Palin, “surrendering [US] control of the Internet is a colossal foreign policy error with long term negative repercussions for freedom.”

Murphy, Kevin. Roundup: Industry Reaction to US Giving up IANA RoleDomainIncite. March 16, 2014.

  • Murphy provides a rundown of initial reactions from the domain name industry and I* communities. All endorse the NTIA’s announcement and demonstrate support for a multistakeholder process and discussion around how to transition the IANA functions.

Statement on NTIA’s Announcement to End Formal Relationship With ICANNThe Internet Association. March 14, 2014.

  • Michael Beckerman, President and CEO of The Internet Association, announced the following in response to the transition announcement: “The Internet’s decentralized model is key to growth, innovation, freedom, and openness. The continued success of the Internet relies on a borderless platform for communication and information exchange.”

Tummarello, Kate. House Republican decries ‘hostile step’ on Internet freedomThe Hill. March 17, 2014.

  • Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) believes the US government’s announcement is a threat to freedom of speech, stating that “[g]iving up control of ICANN” will give increased power to countries like Russia and China to define how the Internet works. Blackburn equates this move to recent FCC action, noting “This decision represents another hostile step by the administration on the heels of net neutrality and the FCC’s CIN Study that threatens our freedom of speech.”

Public Interest Registry Announces Support for Internet Technical Leaders in Welcoming IANA Globalization ProgressFort Mill Times. March 17, 2014.

  • The .org top-level domain registry, Public Interest Registry (PIR), announced this week that it endorsed both the NTIA announcement as well as the responses put forth by Internet technical organizations such as IETF, IAB, ccTLD ROs, ICANN, ISOC and W3C. PIR also noted that it is “committed to continuing to contribute to the stewardship of the Internet as part of a globally inclusive, open and transparent multi-stakeholder community” and that they look forward to taking part in the transition process.

Verisign Inc. Response to National Telecommunications and Information Administration Further Notice of Inquiry on the Internet Assigned Names and Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions [Docket No. 110207099-1319-0]. NTIA.gov.

  • Verisign responds to the NTIA announcement by noting it “applauds NTIA for its commitment to reviewing and strengthening the IANA functions contract,” and stating that: “the current contractual framework has been remarkably effective in supporting the stable execution of the IANA functions, particularly those involving the DNS and administration of the root zone. While the IANA contract can potentially benefit from modest, evolutionary changes, Verisign does not believe that it needs to be substantially overhauled, or that the current division of labor and responsibilities envisioned in the contract should be significantly changed. Verisign values the measured approach that NTIA has taken in its review of the IANA contract and response to public input.”

Descriptive Arguments

Cleland, Scott. Accelerating the de-Americanization of the InternetInternet Freedom Coalition. March 17, 2014.

  • Cleland argues that the Snowden revelations have led to two decisions that have rather opposing consequences. According to Cleland, by announcing its intention to cede oversight of ICANN to a “global multistakeholder community,” the US “officialize[s] a sovereign-less third global power base separate from national sovereign powers and intergovernmental organizations like the UN.” Meanwhile, the European Parliament voted for stronger data protection laws, whereby “the EU is asserting sovereignty over the European Internet so European data will be subject to EU law and stored in the EU.” Thus Cleland concludes that there is a tension between sovereign and sovereign-less power over the Internet.

Corwin, Philip S. If the Stakeholders Already Control the Internet, Why NETMundial and the IANA Transition? CircleID. March 16, 2014.

  • In the wake of the US government announcement that it will cede control of ICANN and in the context of several initiatives to “globalize ICANN” (including the Montevideo Statement, 1Net forum, and NETMundial Brazil Meeting), Corwin asks whether this “is an inevitable stage of Internet governance evolution or a manufactured crisis designed to enhance autonomy and diminish accountability.” There are many important questions of legitimacy and accountability of Internet governance at stake, including “where the IANA counterparty status and functions should reside upon transition from the NTIA,” how the Brazil meeting will produce “Core Internet governance principles,” and whether ICANN is too dominant in this whole process.

Crovitz, Gordon L. America’s Internet SurrenderThe Wall Street Journal. March 18, 2014.

  • Crovitz worries that other more authoritarian governments will take advantage of the US NTIA announcement to “work[] to redesign the Internet more to their liking.” Speculating about Russia and China as examples, Crovitz states that “domains could be banned and new ones not approved for meddlesome groups such as Ukrainian-independence organizations or Tibetan human-rights activists.” Crovitz concludes that “the Obama administration has now endangered that hallmark of Internet freedom [in the form of ceding US protection].”

Farrell, Maria. Q&A: Internationalising the Internet’s IANA FunctionCrooked Timber. March 17, 2014.

  • Farrell answers some important questions related to the NTIA’s announcement, stressing in her answers that: commercial entities should take an active role in transition discussions; governments should have a seat at the table without completely running the show; ICANN leadership will likely continue to play an important role as “internationalisation of responsibility and accountability have been in ICANN’s DNA from the start”; that “GAC member countries need to put their money where their claims of legitimacy are, by devoting realtime and senior level staff to engage with the policy process as it happens”; and that “[w]e need to cut through the fear-mongering about Russia and China and recognise that the vast majority of ‘middle of the road’ countries – democracies and America’s allies – believe it is time to move on.”

Fattal, Khaled. Is NTIA’s Transition Decision the Right Dose of Chemotherapy to Repair Trust in MultistakeholderismCircleID. March 17, 2014.

  • Fattal argues that the US government’s intent to transfer “key” Internet governance roles is “not only very ambiguous but leads to new questions and concerns that must be answered before anything starts taking place.” In particular, Fattal asks why neither ICANN nor the NTIA mentioned the “global public interest” in their announcements; who the “global multistakeholder community” being referred to actually is, and how to get the buy-in of the world’s Internet community in this transition plan.

Holland, Byron. Thoughts About U.S. Government’s Decision on IANA Transition. CircleID. March 18, 2014.

  • Byron points out that “much of the current discourse on Internet governance focuses on the linkage between ICANN, IANA and the U.S. government” and that the US government announcement “removes a considerable barrier in those discussions.” This means, however, that the global Internet community must come up with a plan that ensures ICANN’s accountability, as the US government’s intention to cede oversight of ICANN will leave an “accountability vacuum.”

Mueller, Milton. Structural Separation: A Key Principle of IANA GlobalizationInternet Governance Project. March 18, 2014.

  • Mueller emphasizes that last week’s US government announcement may not be properly understood, and that a real understanding of the difference between the IANA functions (currently performed by ICANN) and root zone maintenance (currently performed by Verisign) is incredibly important. The reason is because there must be a “structural separation of the policy making role currently performed by ICANN, and the technical and clerical operational role performed by IANA and Verisign.”

Mueller, Milton. The U.S. Government Will Set the DNS Root Free. Internet Governance Project. March 14, 2014.

  • Mueller argues that the US government announcement is not about “giving up” or “losing control,” but that the transition makes it “a lot harder for opponents of a free and open Internet to pretend that what they are really against is an Internet dominated by one hegemonic state.” This is a huge step in a positive direction, because the global debate becomes clearer when it is not constantly focused on the one issue of US pre-eminence. Mueller warns, however, that “ICANN itself should control the process for crafting an appropriate transition plan” and that it is important to separate the technical/operational processes from the political processes of Internet governance. Thus, Mueller concludes, “let’s not forget that ICANN has been charged with convening a process, not with controlling it.”

Nagesh, Gautham. ICANN 101: Who Will Oversee the Internet? The Wall Street Journal. March 17, 2014.

  • Nagesh answers some basic questions that will help readers navigate the NTIA’s announcement, its potential impact and why it matters to the Internet community. He states this transition will not lead to multi-lateral management over the Internet, stating the “objective for the U.S. is to make sure that NTIA isn’t replaced by the U.N. or another governmental organization.” He also notes that worries over censorship will likely be debated in time, but that “[m]ost stakeholders don’t believe that releasing ICANN from the Commerce Department’s contract will lead to censorship.”

Philipp,  Joshua. US Relinquishes Oversight of Internet, China and Russia May Gain Control. The Epoch Times. March 17, 2014.

  • Philipp focuses on responses to the recent announcement from Republican lawmakers, citing many who warn against the move because of fears that Internet freedom will be compromised by censorship-riddled governments wielding greater control over the Internet. Philips notes, however, that the NTIA has committed to upholding all existing U.S. resolutions aimed at keeping the “global Internet free from the influence of foreign governments” and that it “will not accept a proposal that replaces the former U.S. role in ICANN ‘with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution.’”

Prakash, Pranesh. NTIA to give up control of the Internet’s root. Center for Internet & Society, India. March 18, 2014.

  • Prakash states that the US government announcement is “an important one and is also a welcome one.” However, he reminds readers that “some aspects of the Internet’s technical functioning cannot restore the trust that has been lost due to actions taken by the US government and US companies” and that “all the ICANN reform in the world will still not lead to a less spied-upon, more open, and more equitable Internet.”

Rainee, Lee. What happens to the internet after the U.S. hands off ICANN to others? Pew Research. March 20, 2014.

  • Lee Rainee, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, reacts to the US government announcement with a set of questions, including: “how the board and staffing of ICANN will be structured, who gets to pick people for which jobs, who gets to vote when policy is made, how non-government stakeholders like companies and non-profit organizations will have a say in ICANN affairs, and what kinds of appeals mechanisms will be available to those who are on the losing side in policy choices.” He states that it would not be surprising if the transition plan takes longer to formulate than the current expected timeline (finalization in September 2015).

Rosenzweig, Paul. Who Controls the Internet Address Book? ICANN, NTIA and IANA. Lawfare. March 15, 2014.

  • Rosenzweig provides a nuanced look at the implications of the NTIA’s announcement, paying particularly close attention to the likely changes that will result with respect to VeriSign’s role over root zone operation. He also notes that some have voiced concern as to whether ICANN is in a “good position” to handle this transition, noting many feel ICANN is “beholden to the domain name registry industry, who pay large fees to ICANN for the privilege of managing (and reselling) top level domain systems.” He also cites critiques on ICANN accountability and expresses concern that the technical expertise needed to manage the root zone may not be as present as desired in ICANN. He concludes by suggesting the US has been “a fundamentally good steward of the network,” and that, while he’s “optimistic about ICANN,” this transition “may well upset that happy vision” we’ve known up until now.

Shears, Matthew. Goodbye NTIA, hello…? Center for Democracy & Technology. March 19, 2014.

  • According to Shears, “the NTIA announcement is a welcome move, but one potentially fraught with peril.” The transition of the management of the Internet’s core technical resources “must be assessed with the greatest of care,” because although ICANN has been asked to convene stakeholders to develop a proposal for the transition, this does not mean ICANN should assume the IANA functions itself. Shears concludes that “the import (and geopolitical impact) of the ICANN transition is far from clear” and that stakeholders will need to “objectively assess the suitability of all transition proposals.”

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