IANA transition goes ahead despite last-minute legal challenge

On October 1 2016 the contract between ICANN and the US Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to perform the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions officially expired. This marked the official transition of the coordination and management of the Internet’s unique identifiers to the private sector.

The NTIA served as the IANA functions contractor, meaning that it administered changes to the authoritative root zone file (the highest level of the Domain Name System structure, which contains the names and IP addresses for all top-level domains, country-code top-level domains and internationalised domain names). In March 2014 it announced its “intent to transition key internet domain name functions to the global multi-stakeholder community”.

The transition – which 2016 International Trademark Association President Ronald van Tuijl characterised as something “that trademark owners cannot ignore” – quickly became a hot political issue, with Republicans hitting out at the plan to hand over control of a “national IT asset” and warning that the United States could cede power over the Internet, only to see another government or organisation either derail the multi-stakeholder model or come to wield too much power. However, the October 1 transition was confirmed after a federal court in Texas denied a last-minute application from four US state attorneys for declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that allowing the transition to go ahead would put free speech at risk.

Commenting on the historic development, ICANN Board Chair Stephen D Crocker proclaimed: “This transition was envisioned 18 years ago, yet it was the tireless work of the global Internet community, which drafted the final proposal, that made this a reality. This community validated the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. It has shown that a governance model defined by the inclusion of all voices, including business, academics, technical experts, civil society, governments and many others is the best way to assure that the Internet of tomorrow remains as free, open and accessible as the Internet of today.”

Hogan Lovells’ David Taylor observes that the transition will have no effect on internet users, adding: “The US government may have said ‘Bye bye’ to the Internet in a certain fashion, but it didn’t give the keys away, as it never actually ‘owned’ or ‘controlled’ the Internet; and after the transition, no one government does – and that, frankly, is a good thing for all of us.”

A statement for the Internet Governance Coalition – whose members include 21st Century Fox, AT&T, Cisco, Comcast, Disney, Facebook, GoDaddy, Google, Microsoft, NCTA, Time Warner Cable, Telefonica and Verizon – noted: “The transition is the result of years of hard work and collaboration and validates the multi-stakeholder governance model. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of many people and organisations from across the community, a plan has been implemented that includes strong accountability measures and upholds the bottom-up approach that embodies the very nature of the open internet we experience today. Although this is an important step in the transition process, there is still much work that needs to be done to ensure the accountability and transparency of ICANN. We look forward to working with the multi-stakeholder community on these ongoing efforts.”

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