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US government to end formal relationship with ICANN

The NTIA plans to let its domain-name contract with ICANN expire in late 2015, its administrator says

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The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration will end its formal relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in late 2015, with ICANN developing a new global governance model, the agency said Friday.

The NTIA plans to let its contract with ICANN to operate key domain-name functions expire in September 2015, while requiring the organization to develop a new global Internet governance model, NTIA administrator Lawrence Strickling said during a press conference.

ICANN has faced growing criticism in recent years about the influence of the U.S. government on its operations, but Strickling and ICANN CEO and President Fadi Chehadé said the decision to end the formal relationship was driven instead by a longtime understanding that the partnership would be temporary. ICANN's contract with the NTIA to operate the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions dates back to 1999.

As a condition of the change, the transition away from the NTIA contract "must have broad community support" from Internet users, governments and companies, Strickling said. The new governance model must "maintain the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet Domain Name System," he added.

The new governance model must also maintain the openness of the Internet, Strickling said. The NTIA will not support a governance model that puts control in the hands of governments only, he added. "I want to make clear that we will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or intergovernmental solution," he said.

The global Internet community will be included "in full" in the transition process, Chehadé said. He encouraged civil society, Internet groups and other organizations to be involved in the transition and in the new governance model. Debate on the transition will begin during ICANN's meeting in Singapore March 23 to 27, he said.

U.S. trade group NetChoice questioned the decision. The announcement comes after a series of revelations about U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs across the Internet, coming from leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

"I hope it's not just a frightened reaction to the Snowden revelations, which have nothing to do with the Internet Domain Name System," NetChoice executive director Steve DelBianco said by email. "Maybe the administration wants to rack up political points for upcoming [Internet governance] meetings. I'm afraid those points won't be worth what this move may cost."

The end of the contract means the NTIA will not be able to continue to push ICANN to improve its services, as it has in recent years, DelBianco said. In addition, ICANN could now "escape its legal presence in the US, despite having many contracts that are adjudicated under U.S. law," he said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.



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