The United States has announced its intent to give up its special role in the management of the Domain Name System. Currently, the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the US Department of Commerce, engages ICANN to operate the IANA function under contract, and reserves a direct role for NTIA in approving changes to the root zone file, such as adding or deleting top level domains, or changing the registry operator for such domains. The announcement proposes “transitioning” this role to a new function to be designed by a multistakeholder process convened by ICANN.
[T]he U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) today announces its intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community. As the first step, NTIA is asking the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to transition the current role played by NTIA in the coordination of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS).
— NTIA statement
The statement is highly politically significant, and comes just weeks before the international Internet Governance meeting Netmundial, convened by Brazil, and months before the ITU Plenipotentiary Council.
It is not yet clear what or who might take over the US role, or how this could be protected from political influence. The only stipulation the US has made is that
NTIA will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government or an inter-governmental organization solution.
— NTIA statement
This does not wholly preclude a role for governments within the process that is ultimately decided upon, and governments will be a part of the multistakeholder process for designing the NTIA’s replacement.
The US statement does not clarify one key question: is the US proposing to end the IANA contract with ICANN altogether, and leave ICANN in possession of the IANA function sui generis? If not, the announcement will not fully satisfy those who criticise the US “special role” in part because ICANN is a corporation registered in California and subject to US law. If no change is intended to this aspect, early clarification of this point will be needed to avoid raising expectations only to dash them later. If the US does plan to grant ICANN full independence and allow it to remove itself from US jurisdiction entirely, this would be a momentous decision indeed.