US hands over control of internet on schedule - despite last-ditch protests

Even against a backdrop of political opposition, the US government has gone ahead and passed responsibility for the internet's naming system to ICANN.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Republican Senator Ted Cruz played a key part in the campaign to halt the US government ending its oversight of the internet's domain name system.

Image: Getty Images

The US government on Saturday ceded control over the internet's naming system, despite concerted attempts to stop the long-planned transition.

If you believe recent arguments by Republic Senator Ted Cruz and a lawsuit by four Republican state attorneys general, the Obama Administration just handed US government control of the internet to Russia and China and has risked undermining free speech online.

Opponents of the move argued strongly against the US government ending its oversight of the internet's domain name system (DNS), which it's exercised for nearly two decades via a contract between the US NTIA and non-profit ICANN to manage the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

DNS translates more easily memorized domain names, such as zdnet.com, to a corresponding numerical internet protocol address. IANA handles changes to the authoritative root-zone file of DNS, which contains a list of names and addresses for all top-level domains, such as .com, .gov, and .mil.

As planned, that contract was allowed to expire on Saturday after a federal judge on Friday denied a Republican-led suit requesting an injunction to stop the handover to ICANN and its multiple stakeholders, which include business, academics, technical experts, and governments.

The suit argued that the Obama administration violated the US Constitution by not gaining approval from Congress to transfer DNS to ICANN. Also, free from a US government contract, there was no way to guarantee that ICANN would protect free speech.

Cruz raised the same concerns in a campaign to stop the transition, which included his proposed Protecting Internet Freedom Act. However, ICANN rejected these fears.

"Right now, there is nothing about ICANN or its contract with the US government that prevents a country from censoring or blocking content within its own borders," ICANN said.

"ICANN is a technical organization and does not have the remit or ability to regulate content on the internet. That is true under the current contract with the US Government and will remain true without the contract with the US Government. The transition will not empower or prohibit sovereign states from censoring speech."

ICANN board chair Stephen D Crocker said the transition was first set out 18 years ago, and has been brought about by the global internet community, which drafted the final proposal.

"This community validated the multistakeholder model of internet governance," Crocker said.

"It has shown that a governance model defined by the inclusion of all voices, including business, academics, technical experts, civil society, governments and many others is the best way to assure that the internet of tomorrow remains as free, open and accessible as the internet of today."

The transition of IANA stewardship has been welcomed by the Internet Governance Coalition, whose members include 21st Century Fox, AT&T, Cisco, Comcast, Disney, Facebook, GoDaddy, Google, Juniper, Microsoft, NCTA, Time Warner Cable, Telefonica, and Verizon.

"The transition of IANA from the US government to the global internet community is the result of years of hard work and collaboration and validates the multi-stakeholder governance model," the group said.

"Thanks to the dedicated efforts of many people and organizations from across the community, a plan has been implemented that includes strong accountability measures and upholds the bottom-up approach that embodies the very nature of the open internet we experience today."

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