The ICANN and IANA Transition End Game

By Paul Rosenzweig
Monday, September 12, 2016, 4:50 PM

Two years ago, the Obama Administration announced its decision to allow a contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to lapse. The practical implicaiton of that decision will be for ICANN to assume sole responsibility for the development of policy over the naming and numbering function of the Internet. That decision has some significant implications for the operation of the network and raised concerns, both about ICANN's ability to do the job technically and, more significantly, about its ability to manage the network in a way that maintained the network's security, stability, and openness. As a consequence, the administration, acting through the NTIA, identified the critical need for additional accountability measures that would strengthen oversight of ICANN by the global community of stakeholders. Others, including me, offered views on how to make ICANN responsive and accountable. Two years have passed and some observers (again including me) have taken a look at the final product and suggested caution. There are many unanswered questions that, in my view, need answering before the transition takes place. Hence I've said: "It would be prudent to allow ICANN to operate under the new structure for a period of time to verify that unforeseen complications and problems do not arise while retaining the ability to reassert the historical NTIA relationship if unforeseen complications arise." Most observers around the globe oppose that idea and want the transition to happen now.

On Wednesday the end game for the transition enters its final phase. The NTIA has said that it is satisfied. Unless Congress intervenes, it plans to let the contract lapse on September 30. The Chairmen of the four relevant committees (Senate and House, Judiciary and Commerce), however, have called for the administration to reconsider its decision. This is seen by some as a signal to the Appropriations Committee that it should continue an existing rider that prevents the administration from completing the transition. Meanwhile a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, chaired by Senator Cruz (a skeptic of the transition), will have a hearing on Wednesday at which both the administration and the new CEO of ICANN will appear. (I will be testifying as well, but on the second panel—the fireworks will be on the first panel, I'm sure.)

What will come of this? Only time will tell.