While the debate over net neutrality garners the headlines, international bodies are likely to make a move that could have greater impact over how the Internet is administered.
Until now, the caretaker of the Internet has been the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). It oversees the Domain Name System (DNS) which, among other things, is in charge of making sure that the system runs efficiently. For instance, ICANN is overseeing the long-term transition from Internet protocol version 4 to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv4 and IPv6), the vital process of providing addresses for all the current and expected traffic on the net.
ICANN has a contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC), which delegates oversight responsibility to the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA). NTIA is part of the DoC.
Now, significant change is in the air. That contract expires in September, 2015. NTIA said in March that it may move ICANN to multinational stewardship. The details aren’t set yet, but needless to say, the matter is steeped in controversy. The group held a meeting, ICANN 51, last week in Los Angeles.
ICANN seems unlikely to stay under U.S. control, based on discussion at the ICANN 51 meeting. ZDNet reported:
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) chief Fadi Chehade expressed his confidence in a move that would see ICANN end its contract with the US government during a press briefing on Monday at the opening of the non-profit organisation's meeting this week in Los Angeles.
The reactions are predictable. In addition to the normal partisan political posturing that such a change produces, legitimate questions are being asked. Put simply, the governments that end up with more control over ICANN may not be on the same philosophical page as the United States. The politicization of the body could affect its ability to do its job. The other nations, of course, have their own legitimate concerns with the status quo: The record of the United States, in the era of the NSA and related scandals, certainly is not free of blemishes.
Senator Mark Warner (Dem.-VA) wrote a commentary at InformationWeek in which he said that the changeover at ICANN is happening too quickly:
Basic questions must still be answered. For example, without the current oversight provided by the US, who will hold ICANN accountable for its decisions? How will the public be informed about how ICANN makes policy? How will its membership be vetted to ensure that nations are represented appropriately, and that technical experts are always present? Following the NTIA's announcement, I wrote a letter to the NTIA expressing some of those concerns. However, questions remain unanswered.
Warner wrote that his “strong belief is that 2015 is too soon.”
Chehade, an ex-Bell Labs Engineer, laid out his plans for ICANN in broad brush strokes in an interview in The Washington Post. The idea is decentralization:
We don't want one organization to broaden its remit [mission statement] and become a major central organization. We want many small organizations that address, in a very agile, effective way, the various issues -- technical and nontechnical.
Such transitions take time and, in this context, autumn of 2015 is just around the corner.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.