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Breaking It Down: the IANA Transition in Practical Pieces

Paul Wilson

As a Regional Internet Registry, APNIC has a strong interest in the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), and the services it provides. We have followed the progress of IANA carefully, in particular through the evolution of ICANN, and the various steps taken by the US Government to reduce its level of oversight.

Along with other RIRs, through the NRO, we have made several public statements about the IANA and its future development, mostly in response to US Government enquiries. These statements should give clues to the RIRs' preferred approach to the final transition of IANA stewardship, which has now been announced by the US Government.

For instance, the RIRs have stated our support for ICANN as the manager of the IANA functions, and also for the traditional "bundling" of IANA's functions within that single operational unit. We have also given our strong support to the transition of ICANN and IANA stewardship from historical agreements with the United States Government, to new arrangements which place no Government or other organisation in a privileged position. Most recently, the RIRs have supported the announced IANA stewardship transition, in comments we provided to ICANN about that process.

With the IANA transition now in sight, the Internet community is entering a crucial phase in which the details of new arrangements need to be developed and finally agreed. Understandably there are many different expectations of the transition and of its final outcome, but these need to converge. In this short paper I address some key considerations in the transition, and some key pieces of the outcome, in the hope of contributing usefully to that convergence.

1. Technical stability and continuity

ICANN's responsibilities include technical coordination and service functions that are of great importance to the stable operation of the Internet globally. The RIR communities rely on the continuity and security of these functions, and we have been satisfied with their conduct by ICANN to date.

Given the demonstrated stability and reliability of current arrangements, I suggest there should be no change in the location of IANA or the operation of its functions, as a component of the current IANA transition process. That said, change must of course be possible in future, according to defined processes, and should be in no way limited by new arrangements introduced in the transition process.

2. Separation of policy making and implementation

The Address Supporting Organisation was established in 2001, with the "ASO MoU” signed by the NRO and ICANN. This agreement reflects the original ICANN "Supporting Organisation" model, and defines the necessary separation between the production and implementation of global IP addressing policies.

Under the ASO MoU, global IP addressing policies are developed outside of ICANN itself (by the RIR communities), and must be accepted by ICANN for implementation, except where the board identifies any procedural problem with their development. There is no case in which ICANN or IANA may amend these policies, and there is no intervention by any external party (even the US Government) in their implementation.

Since structural separation already exists and operates successfully, there is no case for structural change in relation to the development or implementation of global IP addressing policies, as a component of the IANA transition process. If structural adjustments are required in relation to other IANA functions, these should be achieved without impact on established and operating parts of the IANA structure (in particular its IP address-related functions).

3. Definition of relationships

In addition to the ASO MoU described above, there are other aspects of relationships between ICANN and the RIRs which are defined in established documents. Mutual recognition of roles and responsibilities was provided in an exchange of letters which took place in 2007, and IANA services and service level agreements have been established during this period.

While these arrangements have proven effective over the past decade and more, it is reasonable they could be reviewed at this stage (and prior to the IANA transition process) to ensure they are transparent, consistent, complete and sufficient to fully define the relationships involved. I suggest that if necessary, the current set of documents could be replaced or augmented with an AoC (Affirmation of Commitments) and SLA (Service Level Agreement) which define mutual recognition and service expectations, respectively, between the RIRs and ICANN.

4. Accountability

The accountability of the RIRs is to their membership and wider communities, and is defined clearly in various legal agreements and formal policy development processes which are well documented by the RIRs and the NRO (for example). These agreements define corporate governance, rights and obligations, auditing, reporting, and dispute resolution procedures which are crucial in ensuring the accountability of our organisations. All RIRs undertake some form of regular stakeholder survey or review process, and the ASO itself is also subject to a periodic review, such as the one conducted in 2012.

Like the RIRs, accountability in ICANN's case must be defined in terms of binding obligations, reporting processes, escalation methods and dispute resolution provisions. Such definitions should be stated through a set of documented arrangements with sufficient transparency to ensure accountability is continually demonstrated. Providing the ICANN Board is not itself subject to capture, and it is also subject to appropriate and binding dispute resolution processes, I believe it should continue to provide the most direct mechanism for accountability of the organisation.

Putting the Pieces Together

Like the Internet itself, the global IP Addressing communities have been well served by the current ICANN and IANA arrangements. Recognising technical stability as our driving priority, we must plan for the transition of IANA stewardship to impose minimal risk on current well-established operations, in taking us from today's arrangements to tomorrow's. At the same time we must be prepared to critically review all aspects of current arrangements (including organisation accountability) to ensure that they are transparent, consistent, complete and sufficient to properly serve their purpose.

To maximise the chance of a successful transition of IANA's stewardship, our planning should include all necessary changes, but only those that are strictly necessary, for the task at hand. On the proviso that the new arrangements do allow continuing evolution, we can rely on, and expect, ongoing evolution and improvement of ICANN and IANA into the future, beyond the transition in September 2015.

By Paul Wilson, Director General of APNIC

Related topics: ICANN, Internet Governance, IP Addressing, Policy & Regulation, Regional Registries

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