ICANN to be Overseen by International Stakeholders by 2015

telecommunicationsThe US National Telecommunications & Information Administration has announced plans to transition the oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (or ICANN) from the US Department of Commerce to a new form of multi-stakeholder oversight.

This measure could put an end to the US government’s authority over the system of addresses and domain names that organize the Internet.

Individuals and other governments have complained that the department’s contract with ICANN gives the US unique influence over the internet. But after this contract expires in September 2015, ICANN will be overseen by a new yet-determined body made up of various international stakeholders who have an interest in how the Internet is managed.

US Senator John Thune, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said that he wants an open and innovative Internet free of bureaucratic or political tampering.

“The US helped create the Internet, and we want to see it grow and stand on its own. It doesn’t need a nanny state, or a collection of nanny states, trying to stifle it,” stated Sen. Thune. “It needs – and deserves – a strong multi-stakeholder system free from the control of any government or governmental entity and which keeps the critical Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions insulated from the politics of Internet governance.”

This plan is being praised as a brilliant compromise that doesn’t give one party too much control (whether it’s the US or the UN), yet it still holds ICANN accountable to stakeholders, ensuring that the organization itself can’t act completely autonomously.

In February, EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes called for a multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, and last year ICANN created its own “Future of Global Internet Cooperation” panel committed to a multistakeholder approach.

But this possible change in how the internet is overseen has many speculating how it will affect various companies involved, including Verisign, which operates the authoritative domain name registries for .com and .net. And while experts have noted that it’s unlikely that VeriSign could lose its own .com registry contract set to expire in 2018, VeriSign’s share prices have fallen dramatically after the government announced its decision.

VeriSign issued the following statement: “The announcement does not impact Verisign’s .com or .net domain name business nor impact its .com or .net revenue or those agreements, which have presumptive rights of renewal.

“The NTIA announcement involves Internet functions that are entirely different functions from those Verisign performs under its .com and .net agreements. The functions performed by Verisign involved in the NTIA announcement have been performed as a community service spanning three decades without compensation at the request of the Department of Commerce under the Cooperative Agreement.”

The NTIA’s decision is also not without opponents. Information Technology and Innovation Foundation senior analyst Daniel Castro has noted that the revelation of the extent of US digital espionage has acted as a catalyst for this decision, when, in fact, this is an entirely different issue.

Castro also notes that US oversight “played an essential role in maintaining the security, stability, and openness of the Internet and in ensuring that ICANN satisfies its responsibilities in effectively managing the Internet’s Domain Name and Addressing System.” He contends that countries such as Russia or China might use their new power in ICANN to censor online content outside their borders.

Still, many are eager to see a multi-stakeholder approach, and the US has long planned to roll out such an approach.

ICANN’s Board Chair Stephen D. Crocker said in a statement, “The US has long envisioned the day when stewardship over them would be transitioned to the global community. In other words, we have all long known the destination. Now it is up to our global stakeholder community to determine the best route to get us there.”

The US undoubtedly wants to protect the internet. Perhaps setting it free of unilateral control might be the best way for this to happen.