US to relinquish control of internet to ICANN

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Friday it plans to give up control over the body that manages Internet names and addresses. The action means that the U.S. government will relinquish its oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, which manages a number of technical functions that help computers locate the correct servers and websites. Here are some basics of what’s happening.
What is ICANN? It is the nonprofit organization that’s in charge of handing out domain names and Web addresses for the entire Internet. They’ve been handling those duties since 1998.
How did the U.S. get oversight of it in the first place? The Internet was pioneered in the U.S., and for a long time the folks that helped invent it were also in charge of managing it. Until 1998, a computer scientist named Jon Postel at the University of Southern California managed a host of functions related to Internet names and addresses, collectively known as IANA (Internet Assigned Names Authority). When Mr. Postel died in 1998, the Commerce Department issued a contract to ICANN to manage the IANA functions.
How soon is oversight of ICANN going to change? The IANA contract between the Commerce Department and ICANN is set to expire in September 2015. The hope is to have a new governance plan in place by then, so the contract can expire without needing to renew it.
What happens after that? ICANN will be subject to some new form of multistakeholder oversight, possibly a new organization assembled from the various international bodies that have an interest in how the Internet is managed.
Will this mean that we have a multilateral body like the United Nations controlling the Internet? In short, no. Larry Strickling, head of the Commerce Department agency that oversees ICANN, said a main objective for the U.S. is to make sure that NTIA isn’t replaced by the U.N. or another governmental organization. Mr. Strickling said he’s confident that a solution can be reached; the implication is that the U.S. is not going to back out unless it’s sure another government-led organization isn’t going to take its place.
Should we be worried about censorship? Most stakeholders don’t believe that releasing ICANN from the Commerce Department’s contract will lead to censorship, but down the road there will likely be debates about things like copyright and spam, and whether they should be policed as part of the domain name system. Censorship would inevitably be part of those debates.
Will I see a change in how the Internet operates? In the short term, no. Longer term, a more internationally-focused ICANN could perhaps have different priorities, but it’s difficult to predict what those would be.
What effect will this have on U.S. businesses? It the short term, there shouldn’t be any effect. In the future, there may be changes to how ICANN selects and distributes top-level domain names like .com and .music, but for now, things should stay largely the same.
So why is this happening? Couldn’t they just leave things the way they were? The main goal is to reassure other countries that the U.S. isn’t secretly controlling the structure of the Internet. To the extent American businesses have been damaged by the Edward Snowden disclosures, especially those offering cloud and other online services, this is a move aimed at repairing the relationship between the U.S. and other countries on Internet issues.
Make no mistake, this is a concession by the U.S. While the Commerce Department rarely intervened publicly in ICANN’s affairs, the implicit threat of its ability to do so will be gone. That could have an unforeseen impact in the future, particularly if cyberweapons continue to play a larger role in military and counter-intelligence activities.

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