The National Telecommunications and Information Administration took an initial step today in what could become a contentious review of how much progress has been made in transitioning the Internet addressing system to private sector-led technical coordination and management.
The government's formal relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is set to expire in September, and the agency wants public advice on whether sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure accountability for the global membership organization and the continued security and stability of the global communications platform. NTIA Acting Administrator Anna Gomez's Federal Register notice sets a June 8 deadline for comments. A similar 2006 consultation resulted in over 700 contributions and evidenced broad support for ongoing involvement by the government.
The issue has sparked interest on Capitol Hill, especially after ICANN announced its intention last summer to make sweeping changes to the way top-level domains, such as .biz, .info, and .us, are assigned. Big brand owners like Marriott, Nike and Verizon are worried the expansion will force them to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to protect their identities from online fraud and intellectual property infringement.
House Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., is following the issue closely and may hold an ICANN hearing this summer, sources said. Legislation introduced recently by Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, would require a presidentially appointed panel to ensure that national security would not be compromised before renewing or modifying a separate contract pertaining to an ICANN body that oversees global IP address allocation. Another section would require NTIA to develop a secure Internet addressing system. A bill summary claims ICANN has "failed in this regard."
ICANN President Paul Twomey said his group will work with Rockefeller, Snowe, Boucher and other lawmakers who have concerns about the evolution of the Internet and the U.S. relationship with ICANN. He also said the lobbying blitz by IP stakeholders concerning the domain name expansion is premature. "We're not rushing this at all. If people have a problem with something, we invite their input," he said today. ICANN officials initially announced new domains could come online by the last quarter of this year, but they have since backed off from that timeline. Twomey said it is now more likely the rollout could begin in early 2010. Former ICANN board member Michael Palage, now at the Progress & Freedom Foundation, said before it tries to write legislation Congress should request a GAO study of ICANN and its underpinnings. It has been nine years since GAO released such a report.