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Examining The Relationship Between The U.S. & ICANN

Last Friday saw a big announcement from the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC): the U.S. government is getting out of the Internet governance business. Some background is necessary to appreciate the significance of this news.

As the Internet turned from an academic research project into an important part of everyday life in the late 1990s, the U.S. government helped create the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to handle certain Internet governance tasks. ICANN has a policy-development function, but that’s not the focus of the announcement.

Instead, the announcement refers to Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, which ICANN operates.

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The IANA functions operator is responsible for the registries of the topmost unique identifiers on the Internet. One of these registries is for domain names (the root DNS zone that contains all the top-level domains, or TLDs, e.g., .com, .net, .uk, etc.). Another is for various number resources, like IP addresses and Autonomous System numbers.

The last is the registry of protocol parameters, which enable Internet protocols to work and thereby make the Internet possible.

The IANA functions operator is a central coordinator for allocating these three kinds of things, ensuring that the same resource isn’t used more than once by different parties or systems. Without this, there would be chaos. A good example is IP address space: there are a limited number of both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses and someone needs to make sure that the same address isn’t under the control of two people.

Another example is TLDs: while the number of TLDs is not theoretically limited, there still needs to be universal agreement on which ones exist, or certain names might work in some places on the Internet but not others. There are policies about what the right thing to do is in each case, of course, but that’s not the IANA function. The IANA function is just the technical coordination part.

ICANN has operated under progressively less U.S. government control over the years until, at this point, just one point of oversight remains: the IANA functions themselves. The DoC’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has been historically responsible for the IANA functions and has contracted out their operation, and ICANN has held the contract to operate these functions since its creation in 1998.

But the U.S. government never wanted to keep this involvement forever and moving the IANA functions away from its stewardship has always been contemplated. Last week’s news from NTIA announced the beginning of this long-anticipated transition process.

At Dyn, we’re pleased to see this announcement. Both ICANN and the IANA functions are important to our business. We’re an ICANN-accredited registrar with regular participation in the Registrar Stakeholder Group, and we’re active in the broader ICANN community. Look for several Dyn folks at the ICANN meeting in Singapore starting next week. Also, we have several interviews from previous ICANN events available on YouTube in conjunction with CircleID.

Every one of the IANA functions is crucial to our business. From a naming perspective, DNS is at the heart of our core service offerings and we host several TLD zones. From a numbering perspective, we’re both members of Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) and consumers of RIR-allocated resources. Finally, we depend on the responsible administration of the IANA protocol parameters registry for the smooth functioning of the critical infrastructure we operate.

We therefore quite naturally support the responsible move of both the administration and the stewardship of these functions into the wide community most dependent on them. We think NTIA is correct in emphasizing the need for a multi-stakeholder, and not multi-lateral, approach to these roles. We’re looking forward to collaborating with others, particularly those like us in the Internet industry whose very success depends on the continued stable and reliable IANA function.

Together with governments, civil society, other affected bodies like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and RIRs, and the entire Internet community, we will continue to do our part in building a multi-stakeholder system of governance for important Internet functions.


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Whois: Matt Larson

Matt Larson is the CTO for Dyn, the world leader in Internet performance solutions. Matt leads technical innovation at Dyn. In addition, he oversees the engineering, labs and architecture teams and ensures that Dyn remains a leader in engineering excellence. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MatthewHLarson or @Dyn.