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Tuesday, 03 July 2012 14:07

US Government decides to leave key Internet governance role with ICANN

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The US Government has awarded ICANN a new contract to manage the Internet, ending six months of uncertainty after it refused to renew the previous contract, instead opting to give ICANN only a six month extension.

Under the contract, awarded by the US Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), ICANN will continue to perform the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions.

According to ICANN this role requires: "The global coordination of unique identifiers that keep the Internet running smoothly [including] the coordination of the assignment of technical Internet protocol parameters; the administration of certain responsibilities associated with the Internet Domain Name Service (DNS) root zone management; the allocation of Internet numbering resources; and other services related to the management of the ARPA and INT top-level domains (TLDs)."

The new contract term begins 1 October 2012 and is for three years with two two-year renewal options. Akram Atallah, ICANN's just-appointed president and CEO, said: "This is the longest IANA functions contract we've ever had. [It] reflects the input of the stakeholders from around the globe and serves as an affirmation of support for ICANN and the multi-stakeholder model."

In September last year his predecessor, Rod Beckstrom, had stressed the importance of ICANN continuing to perform the IANA role: he called on the world community to express its views on renewal of the IANA functions contract, saying: "The IANA contract is the next critical step in the evolution of the multi-stakeholder model, and the best vehicle for its expansion."

NIST announced in early March that it would not renew the contract - which expired on 31 March - and instead would call tenders for the provision of the IANA functions. It issued a statement saying "We are cancelling this RFP [for the operation of IANA] because we received no proposals that met the requirements requested by the global community...The Department intends to reissue the RFP at a future date to be determined so that the requirements of the global Internet community can be served...In the meantime, ICANN's contract has been extended for six months."

The announcement was greeted with a degree of disbelief. One commentator wrote on Slashdot. "This is a pretty stunning vote of no confidence in ICANN by the US government...Speculation is that this is related to the attempts of the ITU-T to take over Internet governance, but it also could be over the new global top level domains."

(In late 2011 ICANN's plan to open the global top level domain space to almost any string of characters - now in the latter stages of successful implementation - had attracted scathing criticism from NIST's parent body, the US Department of Commerce).

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