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U.S. Plans to Transition Out of Internet Control

NTIA announces plan to give up oversight of key Internet domain name functions

The U.S. Commerce Dept. plans to transition away from its oversight role of the Internet’s back end.

Currently, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration oversees the technical system that ensures the public can get to the websites they’re looking for.

NTIA oversees administering changes to the authoritative root zone file — the database containing the lists of names and addresses of all top-level domains. NTIA is also the historic steward of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS).

Currently, NTIA contracts with Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to carry out the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions and has an agreement with Verisign under which that company performs related root zone management functions.

NTIA says it will oversee the technical system, named the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, until the contract expires in 2015.

Transitioning NTIA out of its role is the final phase of the privatization of DNS, a goal outlined by the federal government in 1997. Now is the time to begin the transition process, according to Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Larry Strickling, who says: “We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan.”

U.S. officials set several conditions and an indeterminate timeline for the transition from federal government authority, saying a new oversight system must be developed and win the trust of worldwide stakeholders. An international meeting to discuss the Internet’s future is slated to start on March 23 in Singapore.

While some lawmakers and members of the tech industry are concerned that giving up control of the backbone will open up the Internet to other governments that seek to censor it, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman and West Virginia Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller praised the change, noting that the U.S. has been committed to transitioning management of the Internet’s domain name system “to an independent entity that reflects the broad diversity of the global Internet community.”