Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) next week will begin discussing details regarding the transfer of key internet domain name functions from the U.S. government to a "global multi-stakeholder community".
The organization will kick off one of its three annual meetings in Singapore on Monday, marking its first global gathering after the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced last week plans to transition key DNS functions to the global community and for ICANN to develop a proposal detailing the framework to facilitate the move.
These "key internet domain name functions" are currently carried out under the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) contract, procured by the U.S. government, and details technical and administrative functions related to the DNS root zone such as process checks and changes to the root zone file.
The contract will expire in September next year.
NTIA Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling said in the statement: "The timing is right to start the transition process. We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan."
In a phone interview Friday with ZDNet, Kuek Yu-Chuang, ICANN's Asia-Pacific vice president and managing director, discussions to work out the proposal for the stewardship transition will be high on the agenda at next week's meetings in Singapore.
He explained that plans to privatize the organization had been outlined in 1998 under ICANN's Green Paper, and transitioning out from NTIA was now the final step of this process. "We've always said this was something we wanted to do, to make it global. We've now reached a level of maturity, so we can finally carry out the transfer," he said.
"Some people were sceptical that the U.S. would ever give up [administrative oversight of ICANN], and there were even conspiracy theories about how it would never give up control. So the NTIA announcement puts such theories to rest," Kuek said.
ICANN now needs to establish the framework to take over the functions based on several principles, including the need to maintain the stability and security of the DNS, address the expectations of global customers, as well as to ensure the internet must remain an open system, he explained.
Under the IANA contract, Verisign has been responsible for carrying out root zone management functions. Whether the U.S. authentication vendor will retain its role under the new proposal is up for discussion, he said.
Following the meetings in Singapore, ICANN is expected to release the first set of documents outlining the transition on April 7, he added.
Responsible for administrating the world's internet traffic, the non-profit organization gained sovereignty in October 2009 ending an 11-year direct relationship with the U.S. government and ICANN. It was established in 1998 under the U.S. Department of Commerce and is currently self-funded, operating on a revenue model in which it collects a portion of website registration fees.
In his blog post on Thursday, ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chehadé stressed that the transition out of NTIA was "not a final decision to surrender control of the internet" or about announcing a new law or policy. "The [U.S.] government also set clear boundaries for that discussion, including a very clear statement that it will not release control of these functions to any government-led or inter-governmental organization solution," said Chehadé, who is based in ICANN's Singapore hub.
"Instead, ICANN will lead a transparent dialogue among governments, the private sector, and civil society to determine the transition process and establish a governing body that is globally accountable. This process ensures each of the Internet’s diverse stakeholders has a voice in its governance," he noted. He added that the move was not in response to Edward Snowden's revelations about the US National Security agency.
Universal acceptance important issue for Asia
Also in the agenda at next week's Singapore meetings are issues related to the recent introduction of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) names as .CHEAP, .NINJA, or .SEXY, as well as Internationalized Domain Name (IDM), which is pertinent to the Asian region since it is home to many local languages.
Kuek said: "What's interesting is that the first gTLDs processed are non-Latin scripts and include Chinese names. There are issues related to this that need to be discussed at the meetings. For instance, should simplified and traditional Chinese be directed to the same website?"
There also needs to be discussions around universal acceptance, he added, where key questions around adoption will need to be asked, such as whether the software industry is catching up so these new elements can be deployed.
"For instance, there are electronic forms today that won't allow you to enter URLs ending with four characters. So universal acceptance will be an issue of interest, particularly for markets in this region such as Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan. India also has 22 official languages, so they're also grappling with how to introduce these to the IDM," he noted.
According to Kuek, 303 of almost 2,000 applications for new gTLDs were from the Asian region.
ICANN operates three global hubs in Los Angeles, Istanbul, and Singapore, as well as engagement offices across the world including China, Australia, and South Korea.
The Singapore hub was officially launched in August last year and has since grown to a team of 14, serving various functions including contractual compliance, DNS security and resiliency, and registrar management, Kuek said.
Incidentally, the very first ICANN annual meetings kicked off in Singapore in 1999.