By Amir Nasr
March 17, 2016 at 4:59 pm ET
Transitioning the internet’s governing body away from American control is close to reality after two years of work. On Thursday, officials involved in the process assured a House panel that all will go smoothly and be completed on time.
They were discussing a newly minted plan devised by the international tech community to move control of the Internet Assigned Number Authority, or IANA — which is now directly under control of the U.S. government — to a group of diverse global stakeholders.
IANA controls the domain names that internet service providers use to traffic data and essentially power the world wide web. It is a department within the loosely configured international nonprofit that oversees the internet’s network stability, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency within the U.S. Commerce Department, holds a contract with ICANN to run IANA directly. In 2014, NTIA announced its intention to privatize the IANA as part of a growing belief within the internet community that no single country should have excessive influence over the global system.
It took two years, but now there is an actual transition plan. NTIA has roughly three months to look over the proposal and suggest tweaks. Officials testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee said the plan will work and has widespread support.
“Support for the plan is broad, deep, diverse, and global,” said Alissa Cooper, chairwoman of the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group. “The effort put into it is truly remarkable and unprecedented, the result is global consensus.”
The new plan aligns with how the internet works today, Cooper said. The IANA-functions team will keep its current role with the same duties. When NTIA’s contract ends, “internet users should notice no change.”
The transition will enhance the all-important multi-stakeholder model of internet governance by “leveraging and extending current multi-stakeholder processes and arrangements,” Cooper added.
Witnesses representing various factions within the internet community said the transition plan complies with the criteria that NTIA laid out when it said it would relinquish control of IANA two years ago. The biggest challenge in implementing the new multi-stakeholder approach, they said, will be putting in place numerous checks and balances to ensure that no one entity or government can impart excessive influence.
Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who represents part of Silicon Valley, was delighted.
“Kudos to each one of you, I think today’s testimony is not only so well thought-out but I’m very optimistic after listening to you,” she said. “What was embedded in your testimony is like holding a mirror up to our country, because what … [you] have worked so hard to do is to make sure that the internet is a reflection of democracy.”
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) also applauded the panelists for the hard work that resulted in the deal struck only last week to decentralize IANA. “The entire community deserves recognition and appreciation for the countless hours of the hard work and commitment that went into crafting this plan,” he said.
Walden cautioned against imposing strict deadlines. “It is more important to get this done right than to simply get it done.”
Steve DelBianco, executive director at NetChoice and policy chairman for the business constituency at ICANN, said there is still a lot to do but he is confident the transition can be completed by August.
“We have some serious implementation work left in the next few months,” DelBianco said.“[The] new bylaw is adopted by June, so that NTIA can hand Congress a report to give you time before July recess to look at that. It’s an aggressive timeline but we can do it.”
“We have sufficient time to complete this,” Cooper agreed. “We have driven people to meet tight deadlines. And in every instance, the community has done so, and so I expect that to happen in this case as well, without any need for an extension.”
Even so, there is already a backup plan. DelBianco said that if by mid-August, things were not in order and the bylaws hadn’t been adopted, NTIA would extend the contract.
Amir Nasr previously worked at Morning Consult as a reporter covering tech.