Internet Governance 15 August 2014

Reflections from the world of Internet governance

By Constance Bommelaer de LeusseFormer Vice President, Institutional Relations and Empowerment
Narelle ClarkFormer Deputy CEO, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, and a Past President of the Internet Society Australian Chapter

Some years ago there was a brilliant man with a notebook. In that notebook he kept a list of names, numbers and specialized identifiers for a project he was working on at the US’ DARPA research agency. That project grew into the Internet we know today. The brilliant man was Jon Postel.

Since that time this simple list – now known as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) – has evolved into what is arguably the most important database in today’s Internet world. Indeed, if somehow it was suddenly removed, some the Internet functions would become extremely unstable and over the longer term the interoperability that is the hallmark of today’s Internet would be much harder to achieve.

Just imagine if we’d set up a service level agreement for that notepad. Using the technology and standards of the time we might have insisted it be kept dry, away from cups of coffee and locked in a safe when not in use. We would have insisted on archive quality paper and that the writing be clear. Of course we would have insisted also that entries be checked personally and be completed that week, and a copy be held in another location.

While this might seem a trivial comparison, the current discussions on the evolution of the IANA functions are simply about that: reaching agreement on a replacement set of requirements that comprise a rigorous formal contract between the US government – actually its National Telecommunications and Information Authority (NTIA) – and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This contract has worked effectively since 1999 with minimal intervention from the NTIA in that time.

As most of the world now knows, IANA is in the process of transitioning into the stewardship of the global multistakeholder community.

For some years now entries into this database have been determined by distinct policy processes and these are not currently up for review. These processes are well defined and sit within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), The Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) and ICANN itself.

A co-ordination group has been established to draw in the views of the community to define the process for transition. The remit of the coordination group is limited, albeit of great significance: draw the views of the Internet community and compile a proposal that is consistent with the roles and responsibilities of the various bodies performing the IANA functions. Overall, however, the proposal needs to be mindful of the Internet itself– its architecture, nature and future.

This latter point is perhaps the most significant. In order to ensure that this transition does not harm the Internet, the NTIA has provided some guidance: “[…] the transition proposal should have broad community support and address the following principles:

  • Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
  • Maintain the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
  • Maintain the openness of the Internet;

With all this at stake, the coordination group met for its first face-to-face meeting in the middle of July and established a general operational framework; the work is on its way. Information and a record of that meeting can be found on the ICANN website; I would encourage you all to read and reflect on the charter and the issues discussed during this first meeting.

However, it is the next part where the real effort is required. Along the way, there will be various questions that need answering.

Over the coming months I hope to get more input from our community in order to properly represent it, along with my colleague Demi. I trust you can assist in this journey and I am looking forward to working with all of you.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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