Stakeholders Largely Support Internet Transition Plan

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By Joseph Wright

Sept. 9 — The Internet's community of providers, users and technical experts expressed broad support for a comprehensive plan to transition away from the U.S. government stewardship of key domain name system functions in a comment period concluded Sept. 8.

The generally supportive nature of the comments is unsurprising, given that these same parties were responsible for drafting the plan over the course of the past year. There were, however, calls for minor changes, mostly in the areas of intellectual property related to the functions and what intermediate steps would be needed before technical function oversight could be removed from Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers control.

Transition Plan Outline

Under the proposal, primary oversight for naming functions would be conducted through a new Customer Standing Committee of domain name registry and registrar representatives who would review periodic reports and alert ICANN's policy-making bodies of issues that arise as necessary. If ICANN failed to meet the customers' service level expectations over time, the policy bodies could eventually trigger a review that could result in ICANN losing its oversight role.

The plan calls for similar processes for the more technical numbers and protocols functions, but utilizing existing structures in the Regional Internet Registries and Internet Engineering Task Force respectively, rather than creating new day-to-day oversight bodies.

The naming, numbering and protocols processes are collectively referred to as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions. ICANN currently performs the IANA functions under contract with the U.S. Commerce Department, and the coordination group's plan would put an ICANN subsidiary in charge of maintaining that contract. The subsidiary, Post-Transition IANA (PTI), would have the right to put the contract out to bid in the future if ICANN failed to meet its service level expectations.

Trademark, ICANN Removal Issues Flagged

Two specific issues in the transition plan drew attention from several stakeholders, although one may have been resolved within the comments themselves. Stakeholders noted that plan didn't harmonize disparate provisions in the individual community proposals for dealing with the IANA trademark and domain name. They also said that the step-by-step mechanism for escalating service level issues from initial identification to the “nuclear option” of initiating a separation of the IANA functions from ICANN required additional detail.

The IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group released draft calls for proposal from each of those three communities Sept. 3, 2014. The coordination group was formed following the March 14, 2014 announcement by the U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration that it intended to relinquish its stewardship over the IANA functions, presuming the global multistakeholder community could develop an acceptable transition plan.

Plan Supported With Accountability Caveat

Many stakeholders expressed gratitude to the coordination group and its constituencies for their work over the past year.

“This has perhaps been the first real test of the multi-stakeholder model working together to make decisions on such important and complex issues, and we believe that engagement in the development of the three proposals has been exemplary.” said Simeon Foreman, head of governance and company secretary at .uk registry Nominet UK.

While the proposal received widespread support, many stakeholders noted that the proposal isn't complete without a complementary proposal from the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability CCWG), a working group tasked with enhancing ICANN's accountability to the Internet community.

“The transition is dependent upon the accountability enhancements within the CCWG accountability proposal. Without those accountability enhancements — those all-important powers and checks and balances — it is entirely possible that the IANA functions could be subject to capture or undue influence which would undermine the NTIA's criteria.” said Matthew Shears, director of global Internet policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

ICANN's organizational accountability has long been controversial. Most recently, the accountability working group and ICANN's board squabbled over elements of the group's second draft plan, currently out for public comment. That battle has called into question whether the accountability plan will be ready for final approval at the same time as the coordination group's transition proposal, as had been expected.

Other Issues Raised

The co-chairs of the naming community's working group may have resolved the IANA intellectual property issue in a clarifying comment. They said their group had no objection to a plan from the technical communities to transfer IANA-related intellectual property to an independent entity to be held in trust. The Internet Engineering Task Force Trust has been identified as a potential solution. The co-chairs' statement appeared to alleviate many of the concerns raised by other stakeholders.

The escalation issue may require more drafting work. Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice and vice chair for policy coordination in ICANN's Business Constituency (BC), said the process must be better spelled out to increase the chances of solving issues before separation becomes necessary, because separation risks intergovernmental capture of the IANA functions.

“While the BC understands the need to plan for potential separation of IANA functions from ICANN, we reiterate our hope that ICANN's board would remedy problems with IANA operations before separation became necessary,” DelBianco said. “The unprecedented process of separating IANA functions from ICANN could invite intergovernmental organizations to demand ‘their turn' once ICANN had proved unsatisfactory.”

Other concerns raised by individual stakeholders included:

• whether the decision to remove delegation and redelegation of country-code top-level domains from the jurisdiction of the proposed processes left the plan incomplete;

• how to minimize the possibility that one technical community might separate from ICANN in the future while others remained, and how to handle issues of overlap in that event;

• whether PTI should be physically separate from ICANN with separate business infrastructure, and how ICANN should be represented on its board; and

• how the transition plan interacts with an additional ongoing process to end U.S. government oversight of the authoritative Internet root zone, operated by Verisign Inc.

 

The Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act, approved by the House June 23 but currently on hold in the Senate would require NTIA to certify that any IANA transition plan meets the agency's stated criteria and incorporate into ICANN's bylaws any structural changes proposed and any accountability measures proposed by the accountability working group. Following certification, which NTIA has suggested would take four to five months, Congress would have a 30-working day period to review the plan before the transition could occur.

 

To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Wright in Washington at jwright@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Thomas O'Toole at totoole@bna.com

Nominet's comment can be found at: https://comments.ianacg.org/pdf/submission/submission47.pdf

The Center for Democracy and Technology's comment can be found at: https://comments.ianacg.org/pdf/submission/submission107.pdf

ICANN's Business Constituency's comment can be found at: https://comments.ianacg.org/pdf/submission/submission92.pdf