Happy Internet Governance Awareness Week! You may have heard that an important event related to the future of the Internet is taking place later this week…but so is another one related to the future of Internet governance. Tomorrow on February 25, the CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Ambassador David Gross, and the Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and Administration for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are going to be testifying in front of the Senate in a hearing entitled “Preserving the Multistakeholder Model of Internet Governance,” in relation to the IANA transition and ICANN accountability.
This hearing comes in the middle of months of input and deliberation from communities around the world on best proposals for the IANA transition process, which are expected to be finalized in summer 2015. This hearing is important in helping determine the actions the U.S. House and Senate will decide to take (if any) to support or hinder the IANA stewardship transition and process, and thus key in maintaining a smooth transition towards a more inclusive system of global Internet governance. In that vein, it’s a good idea to catch up with what’s been going on in the past couple months leading up to tomorrow’s hearing:
What’s the IANA transition?
IANA is the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority and is responsible for a set of technical functions, including the coordination of the DNS root, that allow for the smooth operation of the Internet for billions of people worldwide. Housed under the California-based ICANN through a contract with NTIA, the NTIA set forth the goal of transitioning the stewardship of these key Internet domain name functions to the global community in the late 1990’s, with a completion goal of 2000. It was nearly a year ago when the NTIA announced its intent to transition the stewardship of IANA functions to the global multistakeholder community. To read more about the transition itself, check out our one pager here.
“Global Community”? So is the NTIA Handing Their Spot Over to the ITU or Another Country?!
Nope! When the NTIA put forward the task of developing the long-awaited transition proposal to ICANN in that announcement, they guaranteed they wouldn’t accept any proposal that does not do the following:
- Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
- Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
- Meet the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners in the IANA system;
- Maintain the openness of the Internet.
In that, the NTIA explicitly states it would reject any proposal that even suggests replacing their current stewardship function with another foreign government or intergovernmental agency, such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
At the State of the Net Conference in January 2015, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and Administration for the NTIA, Larry Strickling, stated that the NTIA turned to the multistakeholder community to lead the stewardship transition “because we believe businesses, technical experts, and civil society groups are best equipped to continue to set the future direction of the Internet.”
How Did the World React to the NTIA Announcement?
After the announcement, the transition was applauded by civil society and digital rights advocates in the United States (including PK) and around the world as a welcomed step towards a more inclusive form of Internet governance where stakeholders from different sectors and world regions could participate. For weeks after the announcement, stories piled on social media, blogs, and major news websites on what the transition could mean for the future of the Internet and global Internet freedom, but some misinformation was spread by politicians and mass media alike.
In the U.S., a core group of House Republicans introduced not just one, but multiple bills to attempt to block the NTIA transition and block the inclusion of the international community in certain aspects of Internet governance. First, back last March, six House Republicans introduced the “Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters Act of 2014,” or the DOTCOM Act, a bill that would threaten the process of transitioning stewardship of IANA functions to the international community and also empower enemies to multistakeholderism. Those throughout the multistakeholder community domestically and internationally are praising the NTIA’s announcement and already working to ensure a smooth and transparent transition. Since then, two more bills, the ironically named Global Internet Freedom Act of 2014 and the Internet Stewardship Act of 2014, have been introduced to support the DOTCOM Act and prohibit the NTIA from transitioning stewardship of all aspects of the IANA functions. This past December, the 2015 appropriations bill that passed Congress included a clause related to the NTIA’s budget and the IANA transition stating:
“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to relinquish the responsibility of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration during fiscal year 2015 with respect to Internet domain name system functions, including responsibility with respect to the authoritative root zone file and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions.”
While the appropriations bill won’t affect the activities of the community that is actually making proposals, it does prevent NTIA from using the appropriated funds to terminate the IANA functions contract with ICANN prior to the contract’s current expiration date of September 2015.
Are These Bills Significant?
Bills like the DOTCOM Act are important because even if they go nowhere, they negatively impact the perception of the U.S. role in Internet governance. The NTIA transition was the first step in rebuilding trust in the U.S. from the Internet governance arena, from a community which is oftentimes quick to point to the U.S. as having too much power (economic, political, technical) in the sphere. Each time one of these bills is proposed with the aim of harming the IANA transition process, it bolsters the arguments of those countries, such as Russia and China, who use the United States' historic role in the Internet's management as an argument for the United Nations to step into Internet governance.
In addition, these bills are just inconsistent with previous statements from Congress. Back in 2012, both houses of Congress unanimously passed resolutions H. CON. RES. 127 and S. CON. RES. 50, which both promised to “preserve and advance the multistakeholder governance model under which the Internet has thrived.” Some of the same people who proposed these restrictive bills also passed these resolutions.
What’s happened so far?
Since April 2014, ICANN has called for a number of public input comment periods in relation to a draft process document, the development of an IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG), and other technical issues. Based on submissions from stakeholders, the ICG was developed to collect input and develop the final transition plan to submit to the NTIA. In September 2014, they issued a public Request for Transition Proposals (RFP) to the operational communities of IANA. As of February 2015, some proposals are still coming in, but from this point onwards, the ICG will conduct two rounds of assessments of the proposals. If together, the proposals are interoperable and have enough accountability measures, the ICG will develop a unified proposal, open it up for public comment, review the comments, make any needed changes, and then submit the final proposal to the NTIA later this summer.
Woah, seems interesting. How Can I Get Involved?
Admittedly the process of transitioning the stewardship of IANA functions is extremely technical and can be difficult to understand, but all stakeholders can submit informal comments to the ICG via email@example.com and the comments are archived here. In addition, ICANN meetings are free for the public to attend.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Jamj2000