By: Joe McKnight
Internet governance experts agreed that Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions must remain free from government control, but not all are convinced that governments won't gradually eclipse the multistakeholder approach, they said at a Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee event Friday. NTIA said it would transition the IANA functions last month, provoking a series of hearings and legislation (WID April 11 p1). The House Communications Subcommittee approved the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act (HR-4342) last week, which requires the GAO to study the transition proposal for up to one year before allowing NTIA to move forward with the transition. ICANN opened a working group submission document (http://bit.ly/1jvqqmy) to prepare for the NETmundial conference on Internet governance April 23-24 in Sao Paulo, Brazil (http://bit.ly/1lcUzai).
The World Intellectual Property Organization, which also handled "obscure and technical functions," was taken over by the U.N., rendering it a "far less effective organization" than before, said Tom Giovanetti, Institute for Policy Innovation president, at the caucus event. It's a "gross distortion" to say the U.S. is "handing over control of the Internet to the U.N.," but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen later, he said. "Are we setting aside safeguards to prevent that from happening?" The U.S. controls "the most basic, most critical" aspect of the IANA functions, which is the "title," said Giovanetti. He was picking up on a car ownership analogy to IANA offered by panelist Steve DelBianco, NetChoice executive director. "What is the compelling reason for taking this risk," when ICANN has said the U.S. has done a "superb" job maintaining IANA, Giovanetti asked. He said he was willing to bet a "month's pay" that in 15 years, ICANN would be under government control. NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade have said repeatedly that the transition will only take place through and to a multistakeholder process, not government or multilateral control.
"Whatever replaces us needs to maintain the neutral management" exhibited by NTIA, said Fiona Alexander, associate administrator. "The Internet was not developed because governments allowed it to develop," she said. "It was developed in a permissionless way." That's why the IANA functions should be "expanded to a multistakeholder model and not a government model," she said. NTIA opposes all IANA transition legislation proposed thus far, which "sends the wrong signal to the international community," she said.
Everyone has "jumped the gun" by trying to design the accountability "mechanism" before "defining" concerns, said DelBianco. He mentioned possible "scenarios or stresses" that ICANN stakeholders should prepare for, such as ICANN's walking away from the affirmation of commitments or its failing as an organization. The affirmation of commitments is a multistakeholder review process, agreed to by NTIA and ICANN in 2009 (WID Sept 29/09 p9). None of the suggested scenarios is likely, but it's "only prudent" to consider possibilities, said DelBianco. "Let's start defining the problems we'd like to solve rather than designing the structure we prefer."
There has been "a lot of misinformation that control of the Internet" is at "stake" and "a lot of black helicopter theories," said Jamie Hedlund, assistant to Chehade. The IANA contract "does not provide accountability for ICANN, in general," but for the IANA functions, specifically, he said. The affirmation of commitments has been "instrumental in improving and enhancing ICANN," he said. DelBianco said that holding ICANN accountable, which is implicit within the affirmation of commitments, is the "trickiest thing to replace.”