NTIA seeks comments on the future of ICANN and Internet management

The current Joint Project Agreement (JPA) between the Commerce Department and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) expires at the end of September, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is seeking comments on the future of Internet management.

ICANN has been responsible for managing and coordinating the domain name and addressing system under a series of agreements with Commerce since 1998, ensuring that addresses are unique and can be accessed. The Internet performs this task through the Domain Name System (DNS) that translates domain names to numerical IP addresses. ICANN also accredits domain name registrars and administers rules and procedures for registrar services.

“Given the upcoming expiration of the current JPA between the Department of Commerce and ICANN, NTIA seeks comments regarding the progress of the transition of the technical coordination and management of the Internet DNS to the private sector, as well as the model of private sector leadership and bottom-up policy development which ICANN represents,” NTIA announced in a Federal Register notice.

The Internet was developed by the U.S. government and administered by Commerce directly and through agreements with a number of private-sector organizations. In 1997 a presidential directive directed Commerce to begin privatization of DNS management “in a manner that increases competition and facilitates international participation in the management.”

Commerce came up with a plan that called for transitioning management to a private-sector nonprofit organization that could offer stability, competition, a bottom-up coordination, and broad representation of Internet stakeholders.

ICANN, headquartered in Marina Del Rey, Calif., was formed for this job and entered into a memorandum of understanding with Commerce in November 1998. Commerce has no direct oversight of ICANN, but has modified the agreement several times, in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and finally with the JPA in September 2006.

Although Internet use and functionality has grown phenomenally in the past decade, and ICANN has expanded the number of generic Top Level Domains available for registering addresses, the corporation also has received criticism for its organizational and management style and policy decisions. Some of its more severe critics have called it dictatorial and monopolistic.

A 2008 review by NTIA concluded that “while some progress had been made, there remained key areas where further work was required to increase institutional confidence in ICANN,” as it struggled to improve transparency and accountability as an “independent, stable and sustainable DNS management program.”

NTIA now is looking for public feedback on how ICANN and the government’s privatization effort have gone to this point, and whether management of DNS can be fully transitioned to the private sector when the current agreement expires.

Comments may be submitted by e-mail to DNSTransition@ntia.doc.gov until June 8. Comments will be posted to NTIA's Web site. Details and technical requirements for submitting comments by e-mail or on paper are available in the Federal Register notice and on the NTIA Web site at www.ntia.doc.gov.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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