U.S. poised to offload control of critical internet function

The U.S. is ready to accept a proposal to transfer control of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, but the plan faces opposition in Congress.

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After decades at the helm, the U.S. is nearly ready to hand over control to the address book of the internet. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority contract, which governs the mapping of internet addresses in commercial domains like .com, is going to devolve to a global, non-governmental group. That means for the first time in the history of the internet, the U.S. won't have control over the "root zone file" that controls the domain name system.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced June 9 that a proposal developed under the auspices of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit that currently administers the IANA contract on behalf of the U.S. government, had passed NTIA's three-month review.

"We have reached another important milestone in the privatization of the internet domain name system," NTIA administrator Lawrence Strickling said on a conference call with reporters. "The proposal, in meeting our criteria, has broad support from the Internet stakeholders, and it will support and enhance the multi-stakeholder model, it will maintain the security, stability and resiliency of the domain name system, it will meet the needs and expectations of the global partners of the IANA functions, and it maintains the openness of the Internet."

The proposal had been developed over the last two years, but the plan to privatize the IANA function dates much father back.

"In 2014, we indicated that we felt that ICANN as an organization had finally matured to the point to allow the private sector to take over management of domain name system, as U.S. government promised back in the 1990s," Strickling said.  

Hurdles remain before the transition can be completed, however.

To finalize NTIA's removal from the verification process for root zone changes, a 90-day, error-free test of the new structure must first be completed. So far, the test is about two-thirds completed.

And the proposal still faces lingering congressional opposition.

Along with Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has long criticized the transition, formally introduced legislation yesterday to block the plan.

"We have been briefing the Hill on the findings of our report, and we’ll continue to do so over the course of the summer… with any member who wants to talk with us," Strickling said.

The current IANA contract is set to expire Sept. 30. Strickland said a decision on whether an extension is necessary should be made by early August.