Adapted from a 10 September 2014 IETF blog post by Jari Arkko.
By: Jari Arkko
Date: November 1, 2014
The transition of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA’s) stewardship of the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA) has been extensively discussed, leading to the creation of both the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) (https://www.icann.org/stewardship/coordination-group) and an IETF Working Group (WG) called IANAPLAN (https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/charter-ietf-ianaplan/).
With so many interested people, so many opinions, and a role for the NTIA that can be difficult to understand, it can all be very confusing. What is the real story, and what is happening? Where are we in this process? What are the challenges?
The first thing to understand is that the role of IANA is in bookkeeping, not setting policy. They perform a very important role for the Internet, but the actual policy decisions—such as the assignment of new top-level domains or protocol numbers—are done elsewhere. For instance, these decisions take place via the multistakeholder gTLD process at Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), or via community consensus at the IETF.
Second, the transition is focused on the role of the NTIA, to move oversight to the Internet community. It is not about who performs the IANA function. That is not changing. The oversight role brings a responsibility to track performance and make any necessary corrective actions. In the past 15 years, the community has already taken on much of the oversight role, so, in my opinion, the transition is not necessarily the abrupt change some think it is.
The primary responsibility for planning the transition lies with the operational communities that interact directly with IANA, specifically the IETF, the regional Internet registries (RIRs), and ICANN’s gTLD and ccTLD communities. These communities are also expected to engage with the broader Internet community, to ensure their plans work well for business, civil society, government, and others.
At the IETF, this work is happening in the IANAPLAN WG chaired by Leslie Daigle and Marc Blanchet. Similarly, the RIRs are already setting up their organisations to develop a plan, and various communities at ICANN are working through a Cross-Community Working Group to develop their plan. Links to all these community efforts are on the ICG’s web page at https://www.icann.org/en/stewardship/community.
The ICG, comprising 32 individuals from the Internet community, coordinates among these efforts. Work is underway, and with very few exceptions, everyone believes the transition is a good thing for the Internet. However, there are some challenges.
The first challenge is the timeline. A year sounds like a long time to develop and agree on a plan. However, developing a plan requires many steps and a lot of community discussion across the world. Time needs to be reserved (a) for the NTIA to determine if they find it acceptable, (b) to test drive any new mechanisms, (c) to ensure all plans work well together, and (d) for sufficient community comment periods.
Another challenge is accountability. Some viewed the NTIA as a backstop in case something bad happened. While not everybody shares that view, everyone does want to ensure that after the transition there are sufficient safeguards in place. ICANN has started an accountability improvement project to ensure this, but finding a solution that satisfies every concern will not be easy.
The necessary solutions depend on which IANA registries are discussed. For instance, I believe the IETF has good accountability mechanisms for protocol parameters. A contract between the IETF and ICANN governs the duties and roles of both parties. Any difficulties are tracked daily and any serious problem could be raised in the organisations, up to invoking the contract’s termination clause. Similarly, if IETF policy decisions are mismanaged, there are last call, appeal, nominations committee, and recall mechanisms that enable the community to correct failures or replace leadership. Accountability improvements at ICANN would be useful, but not absolutely required for the IETF part of the transition. This is probably not true for the names part of the IANA registries, however, and significant work is needed there.
A third challenge is reaching everyone who needs to be involved, and finding an agreement. We all have to discuss with a broader community than usual—a broadly supported transition plan needs buy-in from different corners of the Internet community, from engineers to domain name experts to businesses and governments. I am committed to ensuring that the IETF communicates our plan broadly, and draws in interested participants.