As ICANN’s leadership heads off to Brussels to kick off two days of unprecedented talks about new top-level domains with international governments, one nation has an ace up its sleeve.
The US government could be just a day or two away from putting the IANA contract, from which ICANN derives much of its power over domain names, up for public discussion and rebidding.
It’s a matter of record that the IANA contract expires at the end of September, and that it will have to be renewed this year if ICANN wants to continue functioning as it is today.
But could the rebid process kick off as early as this week? It seems likely. The timing is right, especially if the US wants to make a statement.
No new RFI has been released yet. But Commerce could choose to pull rank, putting pressure on ICANN to recognize its authority, by issuing such a document this week.
There’s also the possibility that Commerce will issue not an RFI but instead a “Notice Of Inquiry”, a different type of public procurement procedure notice that would kick off not just a rebidding process but a whole lot of public argument about ICANN’s role in internet governance.
Over the years, it has not been unheard of for the US government to occasionally remind ICANN that it has a special relationship with it, particularly before important governance decisions are made.
Most recently, shortly before the ICANN meeting in Cartagena last December, Larry Strickling, assistant secretary at Commerce, warned that the new TLDs program wasn’t shaping up quite how the US expected.
One way or the other, the IANA contract is up for renewal this year, and the process may soon start that could see the function, hypothetically at least, change hands this September.
IANA, for Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is responsible for the high-level management of IP address allocations, protocol numbers, and top-level domains.
If a gTLD or ccTLD wants to make a change to its DNS records it has to go to IANA, in much the same way as domain owners such as you and me have to go to our registrar.
IANA decides whether to redelegate a ccTLD to a new registry, for example. When .co liberalized recently, it only did so after IANA approved the transfer of the domain to .CO Internet from a Bogota university.
It’s also responsible for making the call on adding new TLDs to the root. Assigning the IANA function to an entity other than ICANN could, for example, add latency to the go-live date of new TLDs.
For the last decade, IANA has been pretty much an ICANN in-house department. It’s not at all clear to me what would happen if IANA was contracted to a third party, especially one that disagreed with ICANN’s decisions.
Both the European Commission and the Internet Architecture Board have recently indicated that they believe the IANA-ICANN relationship could be due a rethink, as Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project noted last summer.