Companies like Intel that build the technologies and services of the Internet depend for their livelihoods upon a stable and trustworthy Internet environment. A year ago, the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) began the final stage of a process it started in 1998, transitioning from U.S. governmental oversight to multistakeholder oversight of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function. This change positively reinforced the world’s confidence in the stability and trustworthiness of Internet governance.
The IANA function—the maintenance of registries of unique Internet names and numbers, often likened to a phone book—is purely administrative. The IANA neither makes policy nor exercises judgment; it simply follows a mechanical process to maintain and update the registries according to explicitly defined rules. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has performed the IANA function under the contractual oversight of the NTIA. The transition that the NTIA is completing will replace the NTIA as ICANN’s counterpart in the oversight contract. The outcome that both the U.S. government and industry desire is that ICANN’s new overseer will be the multistakeholder representatives of the Internet technical and business communities, as intended and defined in ICANN’s bylaws seventeen years ago.
The prompt and successful conclusion of this transition is critically important to industry and, by extension, to the U.S. and global economies. Why? Of the many reasons, two are basic:
- Many friendly governments have become increasingly concerned about the U.S. government’s unique governing role in an Internet that has become crucial to their own economies, and adversarial governments’ concerns have simultaneously grown as the Internet undermines their mechanisms of information control. These two camps have lately been joined by a third, and much larger, camp—one that questions the trustworthiness of the U.S. government as a result of disclosures about U.S. government exploitation of the Internet. While the three camps are not completely distinct and they desire different solutions for different reasons, they are united in the belief that the U.S. government is no longer a trustworthy overseer of the IANA function. Together, these camps represent a majority of markets served by such companies as Intel. Any perceived failure – in the form of externally imposed or mandated delay – in the transition only heightens mistrust of the U.S. government, to the detriment of the many Internet technology companies headquartered in this country.
- The U.S. government and many other advocates have championed the concept of multistakeholder governance processes because such processes have enabled the growth and innovation of the Internet and the economy that it supports. A successful transition to multistakeholder oversight confirms to the world that the U.S. government stands behind its long-standing policy position that these processes work and agrees with industry that intergovernmental alternatives are not the solution to global Internet governance.
This transition is under way. The passage of time and the changing global landscape ensures that we cannot turn back the clock or return to a state that no longer exists. For global industry, the rewards of a successful transition are great and the cost of failure is significant. The progress made at the ICANN 52 meeting in Singapore is very encouraging. We encourage all stakeholders, including lawmakers, in the U.S. and around the world to follow and engage in the transition process.