U.S. Announces Intention to Hand Over Control Over DNS

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its intention to transfer its control of the internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) functions to the ‘global multistakeholder community.’

On 14 March 2014 the United States Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its intention to transition its coordination role in managing the internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) functions to the ‘global multistakeholder community.’1 The role is known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which includes the responsibility for assigning names to domains of the internet. The purpose of the transition, according to NTIA’s press release, is to ‘support and enhance the multistakeholder model of internet policymaking and governance.’ As the first step, NTIA asked the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to develop a proposal for how this transition should take shape. On the same day ICANN initiated the process to convene the relevant stakeholders to develop proposals for the transition of this role from the United States Government.2

Today, ICANN is responsible for conducting the IANA function under a contract with the NTIA. The actual changes to the DNS are undertaken by the company Verisign. The NTIA, a U.S. Government entity, verifies and authorises proposed changes to the DNS before implementation. The NTIA also controls the management of the DNS. With the proposed transition, the U.S. would be handing over this control function. The NTIA press release also refers to an earlier policy statement, according to which it was already the intention that the U.S. role in the IANA functions would be temporary.1

The United Nations Secretary-General has welcomed the announcement. A statement made on 18 March 2014 said that he ‘takes note of this important development, especially in light of the results of decisions taken at the World Summit on the Information Society that agreed on a multi-stakeholder model of internet governance. He encourages governments, intergovernmental organizations, civil society, the private sector and the internet technical community to engage in furthering the process to ensure a single, open, free, secure and trustworthy internet.’3

NTIA’s announcement does not say that the IANA role will stay with ICANN, although some commentators assume that it will4 and neither do ICANN’s statements indicate that this will be the case. What is interesting is that ICANN is reportedly exploring the possibility of creating a parallel ICANN international structure, which could make the organisation a more acceptable candidate to take over control of the DNS.5

  1. NTIA, “NTIA Announces Intent to Transition Key Internet Domain Name Functions,” press release, March 14, 2014. http://www.ntia.doc.gov/press-release/2014/ntia-announces-intent-transit…. More information can be found in a Q&A overview: NTIA, “IANA Functions and Related Root Zone Management Transition Questions and Answers.” http://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/qa_-_iana-for_web_eop.pdf [] []
  2. ICANN, “Administrator of Domain Name System Launches Global Multistakeholder Accountability Proces” press release, March 14, 2014. http://www.icann.org/en/news/announcements/announcement-14mar14-en.htm []
  3. See UN Secretary-General website, “Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on intent of the United States to Transition Key Internet Domain Name Functions,” March 18, 2014. http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=7530 []
  4. For example, see Paul Rosenzweig, “The U.S. Is About To Relinquish Control of the Internet’s Address Book. That’s a Big Deal,” New Republic, March 15, 2014. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117037/us-gives-iana-and-dns-control-…, and Craig Timberg, “U.S. to relinquish remaining control over the Internet,” The Washington Post, March 14, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/us-to-relinquish-remai… []
  5. Maëli Astruc, “Will ICANN Be The Next International Organisation In Geneva?,” Intellectual Property Watch, March 2, 2014. http://www.ip-watch.org/2014/03/02/internet-governance-will-icann-be-the… []