The U.S. government revealed March 14 that although it provides a multitude of services for its citizens, staying on as overseer of the Internet's domain names and addresses business won't be one of them after September 2015.
The Department of Commerce, which has been the watchdog of sales and assignments of Web domains for 15 years, announced that it plans to transition out of its oversight role for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, otherwise known as ICANN, during the next 18 months.
Los Angeles-based ICANN is a private sector, non-profit corporation created in September 1998 to take responsibility for all Internet protocol addresses. It also oversees a number of Internet-related tasks previously performed directly on behalf of the U.S. government by other organizations, most notably the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which ICANN now operates.
Transition Process Will Start Soon
In making its announcement, the Department of Commerce effectively recognized ICANN's maturation to become an independent multi-stakeholder organization. The DoC also requested that ICANN convene the global community to develop the transition process from that of U.S. stewardship to a global consensus-driven process.
Thus, ICANN immediately began the process to transition the role of managing the Internet's unique identifiers system to another stakeholder—or stakeholders.
"We are inviting governments, the private sector, civil society, and other Internet organizations from the whole world to join us in developing this transition process," Fadi Chehadé, ICANN's president and CEO, said in a blog post on the ICANN site. "All stakeholders deserve a voice in the management and governance of this global resource as equal partners."
Separate from the U.S. transition, the roles of the Internet technical organizations, including ICANN's role as administrator of the Internet's unique identifier system, will remain unchanged. The Internet's unique identifier functions are not apparent to most Internet users, but they play a critical role in maintaining a single, global, unified and interoperable Internet.
"Even though ICANN will continue to perform these vital technical functions, the U.S. has long envisioned the day when stewardship over them would be transitioned to the global community," said Dr. Stephen D. Crocker, ICANN's board chair, in the same blog post. "In other words, we have all long known the destination. Now it is up to our global stakeholder community to determine the best route to get us there."
Numerous New Domains Will Be a Challenge
The new stakeholder, whoever that may be, will be charged with a more complicated job of administering domain names—simply because there will be a lot more of them. Hundreds of new domains have been approved in the last 12 months, including such unusual ones as .cat, .sexy, .shoes and others. Go here to see a list of a few of them.
"The global multistakeholder process is defined by inclusion, and it will take some time to make sure that we obtain all of the necessary inputs," Chehadé said. "By the time the current contract with the U.S. government expires in September 2015, we will have a defined and clear process for global multistakeholder stewardship of ICANN's performance of these technical functions."
The first community-wide dialogue about the development of the transitional process will begin March 23-27 during ICANN's 49th Public Meeting, in Singapore. ICANN said that all global stakeholders are welcome to participate in person or remotely.