In what can only be described as an historic announcement, the United States government tonight said that it will walk away from its control of the DNS root zone.
ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade said during a press conference tonight that the organization has begun a consultation to figure out “accountability mechanisms” that will replace the US role as ICANN’s master.
The news comes in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about US spying, but Chehade and ICANN chair Steve Crocker said that the changes would have been made sooner or later anyway.
So what just happened?
Earlier this evening, the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced its “intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community.”
That’s basically referring to the IANA contract, the US government procurement contract under which ICANN has the ability to make changes — essentially by recommendation — to the DNS root zone.
The current version of the contract is due to expire next year, and the hope is that when it does there won’t be any need for a renewal.
Between now and then, the ICANN community (that’s you) is tasked with coming up with something to replace it.
It’s going to be the hottest topic at the ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore, which kicks off a week from now, but it’s expected to be under discussion for much longer than that.
Chehade said during the press conference tonight that the idea is not to create a new oversight body to replace the NTIA. We seem to be talking about “mechanisms” rather than “organizations”.
He also said that the US government has made it plain that any attempt to replace the US with an intergovernmental body (ie, the International Telecommunications Union) will not be considered acceptable.
Whatever oversight mechanism replaces NTIA, it’s going to have to be “multistakeholder” — not just governments.
The root zone is currently controlled under a trilateral relationship between the NTIA, ICANN and Verisign.
Essentially, ICANN says “add this TLD” or “change the name servers for this TLD” and, after the NTIA has approved the change, Verisign implements it on its root zone servers. The other root zone operators take copies and the DNS remains a unique, reliable namespace.
The NTIA has said that it’s going to withdraw from this relationship.
One question that remains is whether Verisign will retain its important role in root zone management.
Chehade appeared slightly (only slightly) evasive on this question tonight, spending some time clarifying that Verisign’s root zone management contract is not the same as its .com contract.
I assume this prevarication was in order to not wipe billions off Verisign’s market cap on Monday, but I didn’t really get a good sense of whether Verisign’s position as a root zone manager was in jeopardy.
My guess is that it is not.
A second question is whether the US stepping away from the IANA function means that the Affirmation of Commitments between the US government and ICANN also has its days numbered.
Apparently it does.
Chehade and ICANN chair Steve Crocker pointed to the ICANN board’s decision a few weeks ago to create a new board committee tasked with exploring ways to rewrite the AoC.
And they said tonight that there’s no plan to retire the AoC. Rather, the idea is to increase the number of parties that are signatories to it.
The AoC, it seems, will be ICANN’s affirmation to the world, not just to the US government.