By announcing its planned withdrawal from the supervision of the “IANA function”, i.e. the management of the DNS root zone, the allocation of IP addresses, and the maintenance of system protocols with the IETF, the U.S. administration is turning over a new page in Internet governance.The announcement did not come as a surprise, as there had been many early warning signs (e.g. https://www.afnic.fr/en/observatory-and-resources/expert-papers/the-iana-elephant-in-the-room/ and https://www.afnic.fr/en/observatory-and-resources/expert-papers/internet-governance-lets-get-to-work).
In the near future, the field is wide open. Who will supervise the technical operation of the Internet? What accountability mechanism will be implemented to ensure that supervision is performed correctly? And with respect to whom?The U.S. administration has provided hints (ICANN) and closed doors (to governments).
On Friday night, a simple announcement posted on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) newsroom shook the Internet.
The US Commerce Department’s NTIA wrote these few lines to announce a major upheaval in the technical management of the Internet, electing to no longer supervise the Internet root zone at the end of the agreement binding the NTIA to the organizations currently in charge (IANA and ICANN), i.e. between now and September 30, 2015.
The announcement appeared to be rushed, although, contrary to the initial comments expressed this weekend, it was not a real surprise.
The issue of the supervision of critical Internet functions by the U.S. government has been on the table for months.Three factors suggested a possible change in the coming months:
- The loss of moral leadership of the U.S. government after the Snowden case (which has nothing to do with the supervision of the Internet root) obliterated any argument that a single government should be authorized to perform this function, on the grounds that the government in question was the ultimate protector of civil liberties, at the national and international levels.
- The appointment of Fadi Chehadé as the CEO of ICANN, a man who is considerably more political and internationally oriented than his predecessors, and who in his first statements, such as those made during his visit to Paris organized with Afnic in February 2013, indicated that the exclusive link with the U.S. government would eventually disappear.
- The need to make a move and propose an opening, after the debate organized by the ITU in Dubai in November 2012, during which the U.S. gave the impression that nothing would ever change in the governance of the Internet, when 2014 is set to be a year of major UN events for telecommunications and the Internet (review of the World Summit on the Information Society and the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference).
Last week, I attended the meeting for European ccTLD (country-code TLDs) registries and co-chaired a session on the possibility of the end of U.S. supervision of the Internet root zone.It was a clear sign that the technical community was already preparing and knew that something was about to change.In this case, the CENTR made its position known very quickly.Nonetheless, 24 hours before the decision was announced, some of the participants were adamant that this was a waste of time and pure fiction.
When Mathieu Weill, at the opening session of the French IGF last week (notice the timing!) stated that this move by the U.S. government was highly plausible, because there is a consensus for its withdrawal, even in the U.S., some of the attendees, including Louis Pouzin himself, indicated that the U.S. would never let go of this function.
And yet it has happened… So why make this decision now, and what does it entail?
It is true that the announcement by the NTIA came early.During a conference call organized expeditiously on Saturday afternoon, the CEO of ICANN stated that he had only been informed of the announcement two hours prior to its publication on the NTIA website.Although ICANN had been preparing for the eventuality for weeks, the timing chosen by the U.S. government clearly took it by surprise.
In anticipation of the Meeting on Internet Governance convened by the Brazilian government with ICANN and other governments (including France) at the end of April, https://www.netmundial.br, more than 180 contributions were sent for a consultation which had just closed. We were all preparing for the next ICANN meeting in Singapore, which will begin at the end of this week. Those who, like Afnic, had been preparing for a move by the U.S. government, expected a statement during the Brazil meeting.
So Friday, March 14, 2014 will no doubt be remembered as the day the U.S. government accepted the independence of the Internet, or at least of most of it.It announced the end of America’s role as the supervisory authority, the government substantiating its decision by the fact that, after 15 years of work, the technical bodies in charge of the network have acquired a relatively high level of maturity in order to be accountable to the global community of users for the operation of the Internet.Let’s not complain however, the widespread astonishment that followed the announcement showed that it was a spectacular one that will change many things in Internet governance.
This being said, when reading the statement more closely, it is clear (and not surprising) that the intention of the U.S. government was certainly not to hand the supervision of the Internet over to the global community with no guarantees.Indeed, the NTIA has chosen its candidate for the transition phase: ICANN.This organization, whose internationalization efforts are laudable, is still fundamentally American, and is governed by California law.It is a safe bet that the U.S. requirement to limit the discussions on the transition of the supervision function to ICANN will be challenged by other organizations, as well as other governments.
The NTIA also stated that it would not accept a solution of inter-governmental supervision. In doing so, the NTIA is standing by its long-established position. No other government in the world, or any inter-governmental organization has the ability or legitimacy to do what the U.S. government has been able to do. This shows that the debate on the role of governments in Internet governance is far from over.
If we stick to the exact content of the statement by the U.S. administration, the NTIA will have authority to approve the proposal of ICANN.In other words, the decision will be made by the U.S. government.In any case, that is its firm intention, as it has made perfectly clear.
By not mentioning Verisign, which plays a central role in the management of the Internet root zone (since Verisign – which is also the .com manager – is responsible for publishing changes to the root), NTIA seems to be implying that this role is not open to debate.
The debate is now open, and its limitations have been established. ICANN will launch the discussions during the Singapore meeting, and Afnic will actively participate in the debate. Regardless of our country or background, whether it be the private sector, civil society, or a government, we are united by various principles: ensuring the security and stability of the Internet, organizing the participation of all stakeholders, keeping the Internet neutral and open.
Afnic reflects this in its mission statement: “for a secure and stable Internet, open to innovation, in which the French internet community plays a major role”.
Over and above these principles, and in consultation with the entire French Internet community, we will be vigilant regarding several issues:
If ICANN acquires new responsibilities that are as important as the supervision of the Internet root zone, a mechanism for the international supervision of ICANN will have to be developed.We do not want an organization that is not accountable to anyone, while claiming the opposite, much like the FIFA in soccer.
Special focus should be given to the role played by governments. Given the economic and social significance that the Internet has acquired, it seems impossible to consider that governments have no particular legitimacy in ensuring the proper operation of the Internet. Behind the notion of the “privatization of the management of the Internet”, which, as NTIA stated itself, was at the root of it’s decision, at least two options will collide. That of entirely private management of the Internet on the one hand, and a multi-stakeholder management organization on the other, involving the participation of national communities through their civil society, their private sector and their government, and with the support of their technical community.Afnic naturally identifies with the second option.
Therefore, following the debate launched in France by the IGF last week, the entire French Internet community is now encouraged to make its voice heard and express its choice. The game is on.