Last Friday, a federal district court in Texas denied the emergency motion of four state attorneys general to stop the impending transfer of governance of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to a global, multi-stakeholder group. Since 1998, the U.S. Commerce Department has contracted the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to operate IANA, which is responsible for administering the global Internet domain name system. Responding in part to growing international concerns over the U.S. government’s role in managing the structure of the Internet, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) developed a plan two years ago for transitioning Commerce Department oversight over ICANN’s IANA-related functions to an international, multi-stakeholder group. In conformance with that plan, NTIA and the Commerce Department allowed their current contract with ICANN to expire last Friday, September 30.
Two days before the expiration of the ICANN contract, attorneys general for the States of Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma and Nevada petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas for emergency injunctive relief, arguing that NTIA’s transference of IANA oversight violates the property clause of the U.S. Constitution by “giving away government property.” The attorneys general also warned that the states would “lose the predictability, certainty and protections that currently flow from federal stewardship of the Internet.” Responding to these claims, NTIA charged that the plaintiffs were asking the government to extend a contract with a private entity on the eve of the contract’s expiration “despite being fully aware of the government’s plan to privatize the Internet domain system, a plan that has been in the making by the global Internet community and has been recently endorsed by Congress.”
In a briefly-worded order, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s request, thus allowing the Internet Governance Coalition—a multi-stakeholder group of U.S. and international industry players including AT&T, Telefonica of Spain, Disney, Cisco Systems, GoDaddy and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association—to assume immediate control over IANA. As a spokesman for the Computer & Communications Industry Association praised the court’s action as an “important step in preserving the stability and openness of the Internet,” Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), the ranking member of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, proclaimed: “we can now keep our long-standing and public commitment to the global community to keep the Internet open and free.”