ICANN No Longer Under U.S. Control

Carl Weinschenk

The governance of the internet underwent an historic change during the past week.

Since the late 1990s, the internet had been governed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which was created by the U.S. Commerce Department in 1998. ICANN was working under a contract with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is part of the Commerce Department.

The main task of ICANN is to maintain the domain name system (DNS). ICANN relies on a non-profit organization called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which matches a site’s long IP address to an easier-to remember-domain name, such as www.itbusinessedge.com.

The landscape changed on October 1. Though the change is subtle, the impact is large: The contract between ICANN and the NTIA was allowed to expire, which means that ICANN no longer works at the behest of the U.S. government. Instead, it is now in the private sector.

ICANN, in a statement on Saturday, said that the transition will result in “no change or difference” in user experience.

The move raised political hackles in the United States. The leading voice against allowing the transition was Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). His argument is that ceding control of IANA gives foreign governments, including repressive regimes, power over what content is allowed on the internet through control of the creation of websites, according to The Washington Post. The story encapsulates ICANN’s response, which was that the United States never had any control over content on the internet. The story links to the organization’s full four-page response.

It’s obviously a political season. The basic outlines of a story in which the U.S. is surrendering control of something to the international community, no matter what the nuances, was too good to pass by. Last Wednesday, attorneys general from Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and Nevada filed an emergency request to halt the move. On Friday, Judge George Hanks, Jr., who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, denied the request. The move went forward the next day.

Separately, InfoWorld reported yesterday that ICANN is beefing up internet security by transitioning to a technology called Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSec), which is a way to eliminate attacks in which crackers can hijack internet requests to, and point users toward, other, likely malicious, sites. The story says that the transition is long and carries a slight risk of problems that could temporarily affect internet performance.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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