ICANN contract renewal not necessarily the expected shoe-in

IANA is responsible for the global coordination of the DNS Root, IP addressing, and other Internet protocol resources. It is currently operated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), but this contract is about to expire. NTIA issued a Request for Proposal on November 10 2011 and it was widely expected that ICANN would continue its contract.

On Saturday NTIA announced “we are cancelling this RFP because we received no proposals that met the requirements requested by the global community. The Department intends to reissue the RFP at a future date to be determined (TBD) so that the requirements of the global internet community can be served.” For the time being it has extended ICANN’s contract for a further six months.

At face value this action would appear to be driven by global concerns about IANA. Many countries believe that the current arrangement gives the United States too much power over the internet. However, it is also known that there are some issues between ICANN and the NTIA. An example was the approval of the .xxx domain suffix last year. The Governmental Advisory Committee had objected that it was not in the “the global public interest”, but failed to prevent it – leading to some suggestions that the USA is seeking greater control over IANA.

Elsewhere, opposition to the US control is growing. The EC gave qualified welcome to the terms of the new contract given in the NTIA’s RFP; but remains concerned that bidding is only open to US companies. The biggest threat to US control may, however, come from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a treaty-based organization within the United Nations. The ITU is beginning to seek its own control over IANA. Robert McDowell, a commissioner at the FCC, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “On Feb. 27, a diplomatic process will begin in Geneva that could result in a new treaty giving the United Nations unprecedented powers over the Internet.” He continued, “As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last June, his goal and that of his allies is to establish ‘international control over the Internet’ through the International Telecommunication Union.”

McDowell believes that the best way forward would be to “to broaden the multi-stakeholder umbrella with the goal of reaching consensus to address reasonable concerns,” and not to try to develop a new treaty. “Upending this model with a new regulatory treaty is likely to partition the Internet as some countries would inevitably choose to opt out.”

It may be that the NTIA feels that increasing international pressure demands a rethink on its strategy for the Internet.

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