How d'you solve a problem like IANA? Internet captains wrestle over US power handover

Ultimately it all comes down to trust – or the lack of it

The plan to transition the critical Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) contract away from the US government is going to miss its November deadline amid fighting over a key detail.

The contract has been split into three separate functions. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has already finalized its proposal for how internet protocols should be managed, and the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) are almost done with their joint proposal on IP address management. But the third function – the complex issue of domain names – has left the internet community deeply divided on the issue of who controls the contract once it is moved away from the NTIA.

A series of meetings at the weekend that were supposed to finalize the proposal were instead focused on identifying where there is agreement and highlighting the areas where there is not.

In particular, one camp wants the domain naming contract to be given to its the current operator, ICANN, provided it makes changes to its bylaws to reflect the loss of the additional accountability that the US government has provided for over a decade.

The other camp wants to maintain the status quo by keeping broadly the same contract but giving it to a shell company overseen by a multi-stakeholder group. That shell company would then award it to ICANN. This second group believes that such an approach is vital if the principle of "separability" is going to achieved.

Ultimately, however, the issue comes down to a lack of trust in ICANN – a situation that ICANN's handling of the process hasn't helped.

Those that are pushing for ICANN to be handed control of IANA have made the case that it has run the contract well for a long time and that it can be relied upon to make changes that would cover the missing US government role.

They also highlight flaws in the idea of a shell company holding the contract, including the unnecessary extra cost and the complexity of creating several new structures to effectively replace the role of a nation-state.

Those on the other side of the argument simply do not believe that ICANN will make the required changes. They feel that keeping the contract out of ICANN's hands is the only way to guarantee that the functions will continue to be well run into the future.

Unfortunately, both sides are correct. While making the case that it should be handed control, ICANN has repeatedly highlighted the very behavior that causes many in the internet community to distrust it.

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Next page: Stacking the deck

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