The US says it is ready to transfer its role in administering the internet's naming system to a multiple stakeholder group on October 1.
The US National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), a part of the Commerce Department, on Wednesday confirmed it is now in a position to turn over control of the internet domain name system (DNS) to the California-based non-profit, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
The move marks the end of a nearly 20-year plan by the US to transfer oversight of DNS, which is often referred to as the internet's address book since it facilitates finding websites by a domain name rather than having to know each site's IP address.
Until September 30, ICANN is contracted by the Department of Commerce to administer the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) under the watch of the NTIA.
IANA handles changes to the authoritative root zone file of the DNS, which is maintained by Verisign. The file contains a list of names and addresses for all top-level domains. IANA also handles the allocation of numbering resources.
In 2014, NTIA outlined the conditions under which it would transition its stewardship of DNS to ICANN. The non-profit last week confirmed it would meet those before the contract expired.
"Barring any significant impediment, NTIA intends to allow the IANA functions contract to expire as of October 1," assistant secretary for communications and information and NTIA administrator Lawrence E Strickling said.
The US has long advocated that global internet governance should be not be operated by governments. However, other nations, in particular Russian and China, had called for a government-led model to be managed through the UN's International Telecommunications Union.
NTIA argues in its Q&A that if the US fails to complete the transition now, calls for a government-led approach will only grow louder, acknowledging that the US's legacy role has been a "source of irritation to some governments".
It also believes ICANN is positioned to withstand any government-led attempted takeover. NTIA said: "The community's new powers to challenge Board decisions and enforce decisions in court protect against any one party or group of interests from inappropriately influencing ICANN."
Additionally, ICANN bylaws prohibit government officials from serving as voting board members, though governments can attempt to sway the board through the Government Advisory Committee.
While the transfer of power is not expected to have an impact on end-users, it has caused angst among some conservative Republicans, who've opposed the plan for national security reasons.
According to the Wall Street Journal, conservative thinktank Heritage Foundation said NTIA's plan violated laws prohibiting spending taxpayer funds on transferring responsibilities to ICANN. TechFreedom, another conservative group, said that even if Congress didn't block the move, it could be delayed through the courts.
"The courts can still pause the transition in September, or unwind the transition even after the contract expires," president of TechFreedom Berin Szóka said.
However, the change of guard should not affect key US government domains such as .gov and .mil, according to NTIA's FAQ.
"NTIA and ICANN have formally reaffirmed that the US government is the administrator of .mil and .gov and that any changes made to .mil or .gov can only be made with the express written approval of the US government," it notes.