Commerce, ICANN strike deal on Internet governance

Commerce Department signs long-term agreement with Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers for governing Internet Domain Name System

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has reached an agreement with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers  (ICANN) for ICANN’s continued governance of the Internet.

NTIA and ICANN signed an Affirmation of Commitments that establishes what NTIA called a long-lasting framework for the technical coordination of the Internet’s domain name and addressing system (DNS).

“The affirmation ensures accountability and transparency in ICANN’s decision-making with the goal of protecting the interests of global Internet users,” NTIA said in a statement. “The affirmation also establishes mechanisms to address the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS as well as promote competition, consumer trust, and consumer choice.”

The announcement described the agreement, which takes effect Oct. 1, as completing the transition of technical management of the DNS to a multi-stakeholder, private-sector-led model. It replaces a series of Joint Project Agreements between Commerce and ICANN that end today.

ICANN is a nonprofit company headquartered in California and formed in 1998 to assume some Internet governance tasks previously performed by the NTIA or other organizations such as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority on behalf of the U.S. government. The government originally developed and ran the Internet, but as it grew and became an international utility, the decision was made to privatize its management. Today, ICANN oversees the management and assignment of domain names and IP addresses, the core systems that tie together the decentralized network.

ICANN and NTIA moved toward more completely privatized control with a new agreement in 2006, a process that NTIA said the new agreement completes.

Although NTIA’s goal is to have the Internet governed by a private-sector organization, the Commerce Department will still be a part of the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee. The agreement is one more step away from U.S. government control of the Internet, but ICANN will not be completely independent under the new agreement. Review teams that will include Commerce Department representatives will examine the organization’s performance every three years.

As part of an effort to ensure transparency in Internet governance, the review team reports will be published for public comment, which will be incorporated into a final report.

Under the agreement, ICANN commits itself to maintaining the capacity and ability to coordinate the Internet DNS, remaining a not-for-profit corporation with headquarters in the United States, and to operate as a multi-stakeholder, private sector led organization with public input. The agreement also calls for the corporation to:

  • Ensure accountability, transparency and the interests of global Internet users.
  • Preserve the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet.
  • Promote competition, consumer trust and consumer choice.

The agreement generally was greeted favorably as broadening the international scope of the Internet’s governance.

“ICANN's Joint Project Agreement, which ends today, had previously tied accountability and oversight to one government,” said Michael Palage, an adjunct fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation and former ICANN board member. “By allowing greater participation by other governments and the private sector, this new framework draws upon a much more international and diverse pool of participants that will be representative not only of the Internet's first billion users, but also the next billion.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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