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Is the Trump administration really trying to reverse the IANA transition?

Kevin Murphy, January 29, 2018, Domain Policy

Questions have been raised about the US government’s commitment to an independent ICANN, following the release of letters sent by two top Trump appointees.

In the letters, new NTIA head David Redl and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross expressed an interest in looking at ways to “unwind” the IANA transition, which in 2016 severed the formal ties between ICANN and the US in DNS root zone management.

Responding to questions from senators during his lengthy confirmation process, now National Telecommunications and Information Administration assistant secretary Redl wrote:

I am not aware of any specific proposals to reverse the IANA transition, but I am interested in exploring ways to achieve this goal. To that end, if I am confirmed I will recommend to Secretary Ross that we begin the process by convening a panel of experts to investigate options for unwinding the transition.

The letters were first obtained by Politico under the Freedom of Information Act. We’re publishing them here (pdf).

They were sent last August, when Redl’s confirmation to the NTIA role was being held up by Senator Ted Cruz, who vehemently opposed the transition because he said he thought it would give more power over online speech to the likes of Russia and China.

He was confirmed in November.

The question is whether Redl was serious about unwinding the transition, or whether he was just bullshitting Cruz in order to remove a roadblock to his confirmation.

Technically, he only promised to “recommend” convening a panel of experts to his boss, Ross.

NTIA declined to comment last week when DI asked whether the department still supports the IANA transition, whether any efforts are underway to unwind it, and whether the panel of experts has already been convened.

Redl’s statements on ICANN since his confirmation have been more or less consistent with his Obama-era predecessor, Larry Strickling, in terms of expressing support for multi-stakeholder models, but with perhaps some causes for concern.

During his first public speech, delivered at the CES show in Las Vegas earlier this month, Redl expressed support for multi-stakeholder internet governance amid pushes for more multi-lateral control within venues such as the International Telecommunications Union.

However, he added:

I’ll also focus on being a strong advocate for U.S. interests within ICANN. We need to ensure transparency and accountability in ICANN’s work. And in light of the implementation of the European General Data Privacy Regulation, or GDPR, we need to preserve lawful access to WHOIS data, which is a vital tool for the public.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be seeking out the views of stakeholders to understand how else NTIA can best serve American interests in these global Internet fora.

Could this be an allusion to the “panel of experts”? It’s unclear at this stage.

One of Redl’s first moves as NTIA chief was to slam ICANN for its lack of accountability concerning the shutdown of a review working group, but that was hardly a controversial point of view.

And in a letter to Senator Brian Schatz, the Democrat ranking member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, sent earlier this month, Redl expressed support for the multi-stakeholder model and wrote:

NTIA will be a strong advocate for US interests with the Governmental Advisory Committee of the Internet Cooperation [sic] for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in the existing post-transition IANA phase. NTIA will also monitor the [IANA operator] Public Technical Identifiers (PTI) and take action as necessary to ensure the security and stability of the DNS root.

That certainly suggests NTIA is happy to work in the new paradigm, while the promise to “take action as necessary” against PTI may raise eyebrows.

While a lot of this may seem ambiguous, my hunch is that there’s not really much appetite to reverse the IANA transition. Apart from appeasing Cruz’s demons, what could possibly be gained?

Ross, quizzed by Cruz at his own confirmation hearing a year ago, seemed reluctant to commit to such a move.

Trump nominee open to retaking ICANN oversight role

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2017, Domain Policy

The incoming head of the US Department of Commerce has indicated that it is unlikely he’ll try to reestablish the US government’s unique oversight of ICANN, at least in the short term.

But at his confirmation hearing in Congress yesterday, Trump nominee for secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross said he’d be open to ideas about how the US could increase its power over ICANN.

He was responding to a question from Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who made halting the IANA transition one of his key concerns last year.

Cruz, framing the question in such a way as to suggest ICANN is now in the hands of an intergovernmental consortium (which it is not) asked Ross whether he was committed to preventing censorious regimes using ICANN to hinder Americans’ freedom of speech.

Ross replied:

As such a big market and really as the inventors of the Internet, I’m a little surprised that we seem to be essentially voiceless in the governance of that activity. That strikes me as an intellectually incorrect solution. But I’m not aware of what it is that we actually can do right now to deal with that. If it exists, if some realistic alternative comes up, I’d be very interested.

His response also mischaracterizes the power balance post-transition.

The US is not “essentially voiceless”. Rather, it has the same voice as every other government as a member of the Governmental Advisory Committee.

Its role is arguably still a lot more powerful than other nations, given that ICANN is now bylaws-bound to remain headquartered in California and under US jurisdiction.

As head of Commerce, Ross will have authority over the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency most directly responsible for dealing with ICANN and domain name issues in general.

NTIA itself will to the best of my knowledge still be headed by assistant secretary Larry Strickling, who handled the IANA transition from the US government side. (UPDATE: this may not be correct)

Ross, 79, is a billionaire investor who made most of his estimated $2.5 billion fortune restructuring bankrupt companies in the coal and steel industries.

Correction: what NTIA said about .com pricing

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2016, Domain Registries

The US government has not confirmed that it expects to keep Verisign’s .com registry fee capped at the current level until at least 2024, despite what DI reported on Monday.

At this URL we published an article reporting that the US government had confirmed that it was going to keep .com prices frozen at $7.85 for the next eight years.

That was based on a misreading of a letter from the Department of Commerce to Senator Ted Cruz and others, which merely explained how the price cap could be maintained without expressing a commitment to do so.

The letter actually said very little, and nothing of news value, so I thought it best to simply delete the original piece and replace it with this correction.

I regret the error.

Thanks to those readers who got in touch to point out the mistake.

US claims option to delay IANA transition as Cruz launches free speech doomsday clock

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2016, Domain Policy

The US government has told ICANN that it may extend the current IANA functions contract for a year, should something unexpected happen this month.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration wrote to ICANN (pdf) yesterday, to provide “preliminary notice” that it could extent the contract until September 30, 2017, if a “significant impediment” should occur before October 1, 2016.

It appears to be a formality. NTIA said:

the department intends to allow the IANA functions contract to expire as of October 1, 2016, barring any significant impediment. This notice preserves the Government’s rights under the contract during this interim period should there be a change in circumstance.

Under the contract, NTIA is allowed to extend the term for another year in the last 15 days of the current term, but it has to give 30 days notice to ICANN if it wants to do so.

NTIA assistant secretary Larry Strickling told ICANN (pdf) a couple weeks ago that it plans to allow the IANA contract to expire — thereby removing NTIA’s piddling influence in root zone management — October 1.

But the move is facing continued criticism from increasingly unhinged elements of the American political right, who have got it into their heads that the transition means Russia and China will be able to take over ICANN and crush free speech online.

The campaign has been spearheaded by Senator Ted Cruz and whoever pulls the strings of Wall Street Journal columnist L Gordon Crovitz, and has roped in a multitude of hard-right think-tanks.

The latest publicity push for the campaign saw Cruz yesterday launch a countdown clock on its Senate web page.

Countdown

Cruz’s site states:

If that proposal goes through, countries like Russia, China, and Iran could be able to censor speech on the Internet, including here in the U.S. by blocking access to sites they don’t like.

None of that is true, needless to say.

But the anti-transition sentiment is strong enough that it’s not impossible that there will be a “significant impediment” to the transition before October 1 — a legal injunction against the Federal government, perhaps — and the extension will enable ICANN to run IANA under the current regime for another year.

Cruz’s ICANN paranoia is now official Republican policy

Kevin Murphy, July 20, 2016, Domain Policy

US Republicans have endorsed hitherto fringe views on the IANA transition as official party policy.

Yesterday delegates at the Republican National Convention approved the party’s 2016 Platform of the party, which “declares the Party’s principles and policies”.

Internet policy takes up just half a page of the 66-page document, but it’s half a page straight out of the paranoid mind of former presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz.

It talks of the transition of the US government from its involvement in DNS root zone management (what the GOP calls “web names”) as an “abandonment” of internet freedoms to Russia, China and Iran, which are ready to “devour” them.

Here’s the relevant passage in (almost) full.

Protecting Internet Freedom

The survival of the internet as we know it is at risk. Its gravest peril originates in the White House, the current occupant of which has launched a campaign, both at home and internationally, to subjugate it to agents of government. The President… has unilaterally announced America’s abandonment of the international internet by surrendering U.S. control of the root zone of web names [sic] and addresses. He threw the internet to the wolves, and they — Russia, China, Iran, and others — are ready to devour it.

We salute the Congressional Republicans who have legislatively impeded his plans to turn over the Information Freedom Highway to regulators and tyrants. That fight must continue, for its outcome is in doubt. We will consistently support internet policies that allow people and private enterprise to thrive, without providing new and expanded government powers to tax and regulate so that the internet does not become the vehicle for a dramatic expansion of government power.

The internet’s independence is its power. It has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history. We will therefore resist any effort to shift control toward governance by international or other intergovernmental organizations. We will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach. The only way to safeguard or improve these systems is through the private sector. The internet’s free market needs to be free and open to all ideas and competition without the government or service providers picking winners and losers.

Previously, such views had been expressed by just a handful of elected Republicans, notably Cruz, who has introduced a bill to block the IANA transition until Congress passes law specifically allowing it.

The irony in the latest GOP statement is that the transition is actually a transfer of power away from governments (specifically, the US government) into the private sector.

The current plan for a post-US ICANN, which was put together over two years by hundreds of participants mostly from the private sector, would see Governmental Advisory Committee advice carry less weight unless it receives full consensus.

In other words, if Iran, China and Russia want to destroy freedom of speech, they’ll have to persuade over 150 other governments to their cause.

Should that ever happen, a new multi-stakeholder (and in this example, government free) “Empowered Community” would have the power to put a stop to it.

The goal is to have the transition completed shortly after the current IANA contract between ICANN and the US Department of Commerce expires at the end of September.

That’s before the US presidential elections, of course, which take place in November.