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What If IANA Transition Was Only a Mirage?

The U.S. government has long had a far-reaching control over the internet's technical center. What will happen now when ICANN's Board puts together a proposal on how to transfer responsibility for certain key functions within the domain name system to the internet community?

Last week, ICANN had its 55th conference in Marrakech.

The most important result of the meeting is that all parts of the so-called internet community approved that ICANN's Board will send a proposal to the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) which suggests how to transfer responsibility for certain key functions within the domain name system to the internet community (NTIA intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multi-stakeholder community).

In this plan, in the future, the U.S. will no longer have the special role it has had (ICANN administers IANA functions under a contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce).

The plan that will lead to a change was ordered by the NTIA in March 2014, and according to the timeline, the proposal would be completed already in 2015, so that the old agreement between ICANN and the NTIA did not need to be renewed after September 2015. The timing was very premature and optimistic, something I blogged about in August 2014.

Favorable climate

What was the hurry? Because there was already momentum in 2015. Simply, a favorable political climate in the United States.

Why was it optimistic? Because they forgot that an IANA transition also demands that the receiving organization will accept responsibility, namely ICANN. Therefore, one needed to combine the IANA transition with ICAAN accountability to ensure that ICANN would be able to shoulder the responsibility and that there were rules and mechanisms in place if one wanted to hold ICANN accountable.

Now a proposal is finished that contains both parts (IANA transition and ICANN accountability).

In all the press around the plan, there is a reference to the enormous work that was put in before sending it to the NTIA. 600 meetings and telephone conferences, 32,000 emails and 26,000 global work hours. So it's a marathon race that has lasted two years. When the proposal was finalized and approved within the ICANN community, there was every reason to celebrate in the oasis of Marrakech.

What happens now?

The NTIA has received the documents and will evaluate the proposal. They write that several organizations within the U.S. Administration will be involved and also that the U.S. Congress is very interested in the evaluation.

There are a few question marks here. Can such a process move quickly? Just to understand all the documents takes time. Is the proposal finished? Critics would probably point to stream 2 to say that we don't know the total outcome.

Then the question is whether it's going to work. All the documents are basically just a description. Those who wish to be critical can ask themselves if we jeopardize DNS by replacing something that has worked all these years with something we are not sure will work. There is obviously room here for those who want to delay the process by asking for more evidence.

Optimistic timetable

So how big is the chance that everything goes as these marathon runners want? Will we see an end to American dominance in September of 2016?

It may be that the timing is once again optimistic and I wonder how one handles the questions or even negotiations if changes are needed. Who negotiates for a multi-stakeholder community? Is it ICANN, ICG, everyone? Here is already a significant risk. ICANN is the coordinator to make a suggestion. It is done. But such a complex proposal certainly has elements that may be called into question. I hope that ICANN has made a plan to handle communications, arising issues and possible negotiation situations.

What happens if it's delayed? How does a community that has worked two years on a proposal react when the next step is unclear? Here is where ICANN needs a strategy. How do you keep everyone motivated to believe in the ICANN model? It's dangerous if the mood is deflated — ICANN could implode and the energy would be gone. After all, much has been built on the volunteer work of those who believe in a better future.

And the next question. What happens if the plan does not become a reality and American politics put an end to it? Is our view from the beautiful oasis in Marrakech just a mirage, and in reality a desert instead?

The NTIA sparked something in March 2014 which may lead to a serious crisis for ICANN, something that opens up the way for alternative internet governance models. There may be a sure winner here; those who by the new plan get a more independent ICANN without an agreement with the United States and as a backup plan, if it wouldn't work to push through the IANA transition plan, there would be evidence that the ICANN model doesn't work and that the ITU oasis looms.

The NTIA's request for a proposal has put pressure on the community, ICANN and the NTIA. We must hope that the NTIA has good running stamina.

By Danny Aerts, CEO of IIS

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Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet

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