For some time I have been covering the topic of Internet Governance, both in the macro (and more meaningful) sense of ensuring that both the Internet and the Web fulfill the incredible promise that they hold for the advancement of all humanity everywhere, as well as in the micro, and more political sense of who should control the root directories of the Internet - a more symbolic than substantive question of control.
My most detailed coverage can be found in the November 2005 issue of the Consortium Standards Bulletin, titled WSIS and the Governance of the Internet, which I wrote in the run up to the second plenary meeting, and closing event of the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), an ambitious initiative launched by the United Nations and administered by the ITU to to bridge the digital divide between the haves and the have-nots.
That second meeting was held in Tunis, Tunisia, and was overshadowed by the ongoing political spat over who should control the root directories of the Internet - small databases that include the two letter national identifiers that end domain names and help direct Internet traffic to the appropriate geographical target. Currently, those domains are under the control of ICANN, which is in turn empowered to administer the directories under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with National Telecommuncations and Information Administration, a branch of of the United States Department of Commerce.
That subjection of a vital, if small, element of the Internet infrastructure to the control of a single nation achieved increasing significance as the Bush administration adopted an increasingly "go it alone" attitude in the post-9/11 world, and the political brouhaha that built up over the issue after the Department of Commerce announced in the summer before the Tunis summit that it would not, as earlier promised, relinquish control of the root directories built into a resounding crescendo that opershadowed, and indeed overpowered, any real progress that might otherwise have been accomplished at Tunis.
The upshot was that the opposition caved to the U.S. on the eve of the summit, taking away as a sop the formation of a new Working Group on Internet Governance, which is now in formation, leaving control of the root directories in U.S. hands.
Now, however, another time-sensitive event is looming: the expiration of the MOU itself, opening the door for debate over whether ICANN itself should remain the indirect custodian of the root domains (the domains are actually administered by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, or IANA), or whether the contract should be turned over to another contractor (if you'd like to know the full details of how things operate, see the Feature Article from the September CSB, titled WSIS, ICANN and the Future of the Internet).
The MOU will expire at the end of September, and the official notice inviting public comments has now been published in the Federal Register. The full notice can be found here, and the summary and important dates are as follows:
SUMMARY: The United States Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) seeks comment on the continuation of the transition of the technical coordination and management of the Internet domain name and addressing system (Internet DNS) to the private sector. In June 1998, the Department issued a statement of policy on the privatization of the Internet DNS, which among other things articulated four primary functions for global Internet DNS coordination and management, the need to have these functions performed by the private sector and four principles to guide the transition to private sector management of the Internet DNS. On June 30, 2005, NTIA released the U.S. Principles on the Internet’s Domain Name and Addressing System further elaborating on these issues. The Department of Commerce seeks comment regarding the progress of this transition and announces a public meeting to be held on July 26, 2006, to discuss issues associated with this transition.
DATES: Comments are due on or before July 7, 2006. The public meeting will be held from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on July 26, 2006.
I've pasted the detailed background and the specific requests for comment at the end of this blog entry. As you'll see, the request for comments refers back to the DNS White Paper written in 1998, using it as a benchmark to be updated to address subsequent events and current realities rather than beginning with a clean slate. A detailed review of that document is therefore necessary in order to tailor any comments to meet the parameters laid down in the request.
If you'd like to review the full background of the Internet governance debate, as well as track future events as they occur, you can review and/or bookmark the WSIS/Internet governance file at the ConsortiumIinfo.org News Portal and the Standards Blog file of the same name. The former currently includes over sixty articles reaching back to June of 2005, and the latter has nine entries to date. I'll continue to post news articles on events as they occur, and will blog as warranted as well.
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Background: A July 1, 1997, Executive Memorandum directed the Secretary of Commerce to privatize the Internet domain name and addressing system (Internet DNS) in a manner that increases competition and facilitates international participation in its management. In order to fulfill this Presidential directive, the Department of Commerce, in June 1998, issued a statement of policy on the privatization of the Internet DNS, known as the DNS White Paper. This document articulated four primary functions for global Internet DNS coordination and management:
1. To set policy for and direct the allocation of IP number blocks;
2. To oversee the operation of the Internet root server system;
3. To oversee policy for determining the circumstances under which new top level domains (TLDs) would be added to the root server system; and
4. To coordinate the assignment of other technical protocol parameters as needed to maintain universal connectivity on the Internet.
In the DNS White Paper, the Department of Commerce concluded that these functions were relevant to the state of the Internet DNS and should be primarily performed through private sector management. To this end, the Department of Commerce stated that it was prepared to enter into agreement with a new not-for-profit corporation formed by private sector Internet stakeholders. Private sector interests formed the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for this purpose. In the fall of 1998, the Department of Commerce entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ICANN, a California non-profit corporation, to transition technical Internet DNS coordination and management functions to the private sector.
The MOU contains a series of core tasks for ICANN, which include establishing appropriate relationships with the organizations that form the technical underpinnings of the Internet DNS, as well as date-specific milestones designed to help ICANN reach full corporate maturity. It has been amended six times, most recently in September 2003 and will expire on September 30, 2006.
On June 30, 2005, NTIA released the U.S. Principles on the Internet’s Domain Name and Addressing System, which provides in general: the United States Government intends to preserve the security and stability of the Internet DNS by maintaining its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file; governments have legitimate interest in the management of their country code top level domains (ccTLD); ICANN is the appropriate technical manager of the Internet DNS; and dialogue related to Internet governance should continue in relevant multiple fora.
Request for Comment: Because the current MOU will expire on September 30, 2006, NTIA seeks comment on the progress to date of the transition of the technical coordination and management of the Internet DNS to the private sector.
The questions below are intended to assist in identifying the issues and should not be construed as a limitation on comments that may be submitted. When referencing, in your comments, any studies, research, and other empirical data that are not widely published, please provide copies of the referenced materials with the submitted comments.
1. The DNS White Paper articulated principles (i.e., stability; competition; private, bottom-up coordination; and representation) necessary for guiding the transition to private sector management of the Internet DNS. Are these principles still relevant? Should additional principles be considered in light of: the advance in Internet technology; the expanded global reach of the Internet; the experience gained over the eight years since the Department of Commerce issued the DNS White Paper; and the international dialogue, including the discussions related to Internet governance at the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)?
2. The DNS White Paper articulated a number of actions that should be taken in order for the U.S. Government to transition its Internet DNS technical coordination and management responsibilities to the private sector. These actions appear in the MOU as a series of core tasks and milestones. Has ICANN achieved sufficient progress in its tasks, as agreed in the MOU, for the transition to take place by September 30, 2006?
3. Are these core tasks and milestones still relevant to facilitate this transition and meet the goals outlined in the DNS White Paper and the U.S. Principles on the Internet’s Domain Name and Addressing System? Should new or revised tasks/methods be considered in order for the transition to occur? And on what time frame and by what method should a transition occur?
4. The DNS White Paper listed several key stakeholder groups whose meaningful participation is necessary for effective technical coordination and management of the Internet DNS. Are all of these groups involved effectively in the ICANN process? If not, how could their involvement be improved? Are there key stakeholder groups not listed in the DNS White Paper, such as those with expertise in the area of Internet security or infrastructure technologies, that could provide valuable input into the technical coordination and management of the Internet DNS? If so, how could their involvement be facilitated?
5. The DNS White Paper listed principles and mechanisms for technical coordination and management of the Internet DNS to encourage meaningful participation and representation of key stakeholders. ICANN, in conjunction with many of these key stakeholders, has created various supporting organizations and committees to facilitate stakeholder participation in ICANN processes. Is participation in these organizations meeting the needs of key stakeholders and the Internet community? Are there ways to improve or expand participation in these organizations and committees?
6. What methods and/or processes should be considered to encourage greater efficiency and responsiveness to governments and ccTLD managers in processing root management requests to address public policy and sovereignty concerns? Please keep in mind the need to preserve the security and stability of the Internet DNS and the goal of decision-making at the local level. Are there new technology tools available that could improve this process, such as automation of request processing?
7. Many public and private organizations have various roles and responsibilities related to the Internet DNS, and more broadly, to Internet governance. How can information exchange, collaboration and enhanced cooperation among these organizations be achieved as called for by the WSIS?
Public Meeting: NTIA announces a public meeting to be held on July 26, 2006, to discuss issues associated with this transition. The agenda for the meeting will be posted on NTIA’s website, www.ntia.doc.gov, one week prior to the meeting.
The meeting will be open to the public and press on a first-come, first-served basis. Space is limited. Due to security requirements and to facilitate entry to the Department of Commerce building, anyone wishing to attend must contact Tanika Hawkins at (202) 482—1866 or firstname.lastname@example.org at least five (5) days prior to the meeting in order to provide the necessary clearance information. When arriving for the meeting, attendees must present photo or passport identification and/or a U.S. Government building pass, if applicable, and should arrive at least one-half hour prior to the start time of the meeting. The public meeting is physically accessible to people with disabilities. Individuals requiring special services, such as sign language interpretation or other ancillary aids are asked to indicate this to Ms. Hawkins.
Dated: May 23, 2006
Chief Counsel, National Telecommunications and Information Administration
 Memorandum on Electronic Commerce, 2 Pub. Papers 898 (July 1, 1997).
 Management of Internet Names and Addresses, 63 Fed. Reg. 31,741 (June 10, 1998).
 For more information on the private sector proposals received see http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/background.htm
 Memorandum of Understanding Between the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (November 25, 1998), available at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/icann-memorandum.htm.
 All MOU Amendments are available online at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/icann.htm.
 Memorandum of Understanding Between the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, Amendment 6, available at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/agreements/amendment6_09162003.htm.
 U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Principles on the Internet’s Domain Name and Addressing System (June 30, 2005), http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/usdnsprinciples_06302005.htm.
 See, e.g., World Summit on the Information Society, Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (November 18, 2005), WSIS-05/TUNIS/DOC/6(Rev.1)-E, available at http://www.itu.int/wsis/doc2/tunis/off/6rev1.html. .
For further blog entries on WSIS/Internet Governance, click here