The NTIA has recently announced it will no longer carry on oversight of the IANA functions contract and has proposed a transition plan for these tasks to be administered directly by the “global multistakeholder community” (i.e ICANN), via a process to be determined by ICANN and approved by the US government in September 2015.
The announcement has made it clear that it “will not accept a proposal” for transitioning the IANA contract that involves a “government-led or an inter-governmental organisation solution”.
For the text of the NTIA announcement see – http://www.ntia.doc.gov/print/press-release/2014/ntia-announces-intent-transition-key-internet-domain-name-functions
But what does this ‘transition’ actually entail? Is this a first step towards democratising Internet Governance structures?
We believe that this move, while of immense symbolic value, actually changes very little.
- The transition is as a result of executive action which can be challenged in American courts or superceded by American legislation – therefore there is no certainty to this.
- ICANN remains a US-based company, subject to US law and oversight. By keeping control of IANA functions within ICANN, where US government and corporate interests are largely fused, the US retains de facto control.
- The problem with NTIAs role was not whether it would routinely interfere with ICANN decisions, which it was careful enough to almost never do. It was the fact that the root of the Internet was under the control of US government, a control that could be misused at relatively extra-ordinary times, like a war, or other less dramatic foreign policy ‘situations’. Nothing has changed in that regard. ICANN as a US non profit still remains fully subject to US laws, including such that are used in service of foreign policy imperatives.
- The US continues to have technical and economic leverage over the digital ecosystem. So this move will do nothing to stop monopolization, protect human rights etc.
- This move further concentrates power in the hands of the private sector which has undue influence in ICANN.
- The US has arbitrarily appointed ICANN to oversee the transition while placing various restrictive conditions on the same.
- The NITA announcement merely states that the US would consider, some time after September 2015, the results of ICANN’s consultation process, thus implicitly reserving the right to continue its current role.
- The proposal places the concept of multistakeholderism at the centre of Internet Governance procedures with ICANN (and its current structures/board etc.) as its chosen vehicle. The problems with multistakeholderism have been discussed previously (notably that the USG believes that it does and can control these processes through the private sector, its favored status with the technical community and its more or less complete suborning of Civil Society and with ICANN being a self-perpetuating institutional mechanism structured to ensure both US strategic dominance and a veneer of globalism).
- The master root server remain in the US and under de facto control of the US Government.
- Public policy issues continue to be decided by ICANN in a forum where the private sector has disproportionate influence.
- The NTIA statement is fairly ambiguous in nature (for instance the statement says that the USG will transition ‘key Internet roles’ but there is no definition or explanation of what these key roles are)