In one of my previous articles I briefly shared that ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned names and Numbers, is an International organization that coordinates the operation of the Internet in terms of policies and technical operations.
I further explained that IANA, Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is an entity within ICANN that deals with the technical operation of the key infrastructure called DNS, Domain Name System.
To understand better the IANA stewardship transition let me first describe the IANA functions, How IANA operates based on NTIA, National Telecommunications and Information Administration of United States Department of Commerce (DOC), oversight.
IANA and NTIA To access the tzNIC website for example, an Internet user would type in “www.tznic.or.tz.” The suffix “.tz” is the top-level domain, and “or” is the secondlevel domain.
The domain name system “resolves” www.tznic.or.tz to the proper Internet Protocol address (x.x.x.x). As part of resolving a domain name, the process is done in pieces, winnowing the search until the resource is located.
The first portion, the far right top-level domain (“.tz” in this example), is queried using the root server to begin narrowing down servers. The root zone file contains information about the domain name servers for each Top Level Domain (TLD), and is used to ensure that requests made to the servers are directed to the correct destination.
The content of the root zone file is controlled and coordinated by IANA with oversight and approval of any changes conducted by NTIA. Therefore no changes related with any TLD should be done to the root zone without authorization or approval of NTIA. This include delegations, re-delegations and changes of TLD nameservers.
It is with this reason that all delegation or redelegation processes were being approved by the DOC of United States of America. In 1998, the Department of Commerce approved the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California non-profit corporation, to manage a number of Internet-related tasks, including the allocation and designation of Internet domain names and addresses.
Under this arrangement, ICANN manages the number and type of TLDs, the designation of registry operators that operate TLDs, the accreditation of registrars that offer second level domain registration, and the operation of the domain name dispute resolution process.
Additionally, through a separate contract with the Department of Commerce, ICANN operates the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to manage the domain name system “root zone” files — the master files of top-level domain names — as well as to coordinate the allocation of IP addresses.
NTIA contracts with ICANN to perform the IANA functions, an arrangement that has existed since 1998. NTIA’s primary role is a procedural and largely nonoperational one, administering changes to the root zone.
NTIA has periodically renewed its contract with ICANN, most recently in 2012 to extend through 2015, with options to renew for several additional years. NTIA Announcement On March 14th, 2014 about a week to the ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore, NTIA announced its intention to transition the IANA oversight to the global multi-stakeholder community.
The statement issued by NTIA read as follows: To support and enhance the multi-stakeholder model of Internet policy making and governance, the 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’s responsibility includes the procedural role of administering changes to the authoritative root zone file – the database containing the lists of names and addresses of all top-level domains – as well as serving as the historic steward of the DNS.
NTIA currently contracts with ICANN to carry out the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions and has a Cooperative Agreement with Verisign under which it performs related root zone management functions. Transitioning NTIA out of its role marks the final phase of the privatization of the DNS as outlined by the U.S. Government in 1997.
ICANN is uniquely positioned, as both the current IANA functions contractor and the global coordinator for the DNS, as the appropriate party to convene the multi-stakeholder process to develop the transition plan.
NTIA has informed ICANN that it expects that in the development of the proposal, ICANN will work collaboratively with the directly affected parties, including the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), the Internet Society (ISOC), the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), Top level domain name operators, VeriSign, and other interested global stakeholders.
NTIA has communicated to ICANN that the transition proposal must have broad community support and address the following four principles: i) Support and enhance the multi-stakeholder model; ii) Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS; iii) Meet the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and, iv) Maintain the openness of the Internet.
From the inception of ICANN, the U.S. Government and Internet stakeholders envisioned that the U.S. role in the IANA functions would be temporary.
The Commerce Department’s June 10, 1998 statement of Policy stated that the U.S. Government “is committed to a transition that will allow the private sector to take leadership for DNS management.” ICANN as an organization has matured and taken steps in recent years to improve its accountability and transparency and its technical competence.
At the same time, international support continues to grow for the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance as evidenced by the continued success of the Internet Governance Forum and the resilient stewardship of the various Internet institutions”. Detailed announcement can be read at “https://www. ntia.doc.gov/press-release/2014/ ntia-announces-intent-transitionkey- internet-domain-namefunctions” https://www.ntia. doc.gov/press-release/2014/ntiaannounces- intent-transition-keyinternet- domain-name-functions.
Following this announcement, the IANA stewardship transition process became the main agenda of ICANN 49 meeting and the following ones. The announcement also raised a number of questions particularly due to the conditions put forward by NTIA. The questions included: a) How will NTIA collect and assess the stewardship proposals?
Has a process been determined? Is there a timeline in place for a decision? b) Does transition of the IANA functions out of NTIA have implications for US national security? c) How will NTIA ensure that any transition is smooth and does not affect the daily functioning of the Internet? d) What will be the result if NTIA does not receive a proposal that satisfies the criteria it set forth?
Does NTIA plan to exercise the automatic option for renewal on the IANA contract if a satisfactory proposal is not received? e) What sort of multi-stakeholder community would be the ideal replacement for NTIA’s role in the IANA functions? f) What safeguards will be in place to prevent a future change that would allow for governments to seize control? g)
What will be the practical impact of this transition on Internet users and businesses that utilize the Internet for commerce? In the articles to come, detailed explanation on how the IANA transition happened and the current state of IANA operations will be discussed.