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US govt: You, ICANN. YOU can run the internet. We quit

The DNS root zone file won't be Uncle Sam's problem for much longer

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The US Department of Commerce is ready to leave the keys to the internet's worldwide DNS system in the hands of non-profit net overseer ICANN.

The department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is charged with stewarding the administration of the internet and managing the authoritative root zone file of the planet's DNS structure. Since 1998, it has contracted that job to ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), specifically its Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) wing.

Now NTIA intends to remove itself from the whole shebang entirely when that contract expires in 2015. It has asked ICANN to work with governments and private firms to plan exactly how the non-profit corp will assume the duties of NTIA.

The move will effectively pull the US government out of the process, leaving ICANN and its partners to run the show.

The DNS system, for the uninitiated, is used by devices connected to the internet to convert human-readable domain names, such as theregister.co.uk, into network addresses, such as 50.57.15.204, which computers can understand. There is a hierarchy of servers that resolve these domain names into IP addresses, and the root zone file sits at the apex, describing the systems responsible for the top-level domains such as .com, .org, .net and so on. The rest of the structure below depends on it.

Managing the root zone file is a vital role in keeping the internet as we know it glued together – see here for a fuller briefing [PDF].

The handover of the reins to ICANN will give the overseer further control, and distance the US government from its position as the de facto ruler of the internet. Under the plan, IANA will continue to manage the root zone. Currently, the company partners with Verisign to maintain much of the DNS system worldwide.

A timetable of the changes can be found here [PDF].

"We are inviting governments, the private sector, civil society, and other Internet organizations from the whole world to join us in developing this transition process," ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé said today.

"All stakeholders deserve a voice in the management and governance of this global resource as equal partners."

The move is part of a larger migration by the US government to remove itself from roles it assumed in the early days of the internet when a stable organization was needed to maintain the integrity of the net's underlying systems.

"The timing is right to start the transition process,” said Lawrence E. Strickling, US Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information.

"We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan."

As the industry has matured and grown, calls have come to decentralize management and hand control over from government officials to a multi-stakeholder model in the private sector. In a process dating back to 2006, Uncle Sam has been slowly handing over its responsibilities to private stakeholders. ®

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