Acknowledging that additional time is needed to develop an acceptable structure for international stewardship of the Internet, the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) said Monday that it would delay its plan to relinquish control of the Internet domain name system by at least one year. Since 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been contracted by the DOC to operate the domain name system known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). The DOC’s current agreement with ICANN is due to expire next month. Responding in part to growing international concerns over the U.S. government’s role in managing the structure of the Internet, assistant Commerce Secretary Larry Strickling asked the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) last year to develop a plan for transitioning U.S. government oversight over ICANN’s IANA-related functions to an international group that would (1) support and enhance the multi-stakeholder model of web governance on which the Internet was built, (2) maintain the security and resiliency of the domain name system, (3) satisfy the needs and expectations of global customers and partners, and (4) ensure “the openness of the Internet.” Although the DOC has stipulated that the new international body cannot be led or controlled by a government or an intergovernmental organization, critics have since raised concerns that the plan could open the door to influence by foreign governments that have attempted to curtail rights to free expression through web-based platforms. House members also passed legislation in June that would give Congress oversight over the DOC’s plan to transition Internet governance.
Admitting, “it has been increasingly apparent over the last few months that the community needs time to complete its work, have the plan reviewed by the U.S. government, and then implement it if it is approved,” Strickling reported in a blog post that the DOC will renew its contract with ICANN for one more year with the option to renew for three additional years. As he applauded the DOC’s decision as “an important step,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) remarked: “the administration is recognizing, at it should, that it is more important to get this issue right than it is to simply get it done.”