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When the US lets go of the keys to the internet, what about our protocols?

Don't worry – the IETF hands in homework

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has completed its part of a larger effort to move crucial behind-the-scenes internet systems away from US government control.

The IETF, which develops and publishes key standards, has drawn up plans for how internet protocols should be managed in the future. These protocols rely on internationally agreed-upon codes and numbers that specify how computers across the planet communicate. They cover everything from DHCP message types to TCP flags.

Protocol parameter assignment is one of three main jobs of IANA, which is run by ICANN under contract to the US government; that contract also puts the non-profit in charge of global DNS and IP address allocation. Uncle Sam is in the process of letting go of the contract, possibly leaving ICANN to run the IANA functions on its own, so the IETF has written up how a transition of power will affect the assignment of protocol parameters.

In short, the task force doesn't think any major changes are needed.

IETF chairman Jari Arkko and Eliot Lear, a member of the related Internet Architecture Board (IAB), announced in a blog post on Thursday that their work was complete after ten drafts and the IETF's usual policy processes.

"For the IETF, this change is largely a recognition of the evolution that has already happened, and our community believes the processes we have built are strong enough to work with or without [US government] oversight," the post said.

It also noted that "owing to the the widely held community opinion that the existing arrangements between IETF and ICANN have served us well, and should be continued," it was able to complete the document comparatively quickly: "Long ago we took full responsibility for our part of IANA, including the oversight. We have evolved solid principles over time. This made preparing a transition document much easier than it perhaps otherwise would have been."

The actual document itself notes that the move of the IANA contract away from the US government has no real impact on protocol parameters. "No new organizations or structures are required," it says, "…the IETF protocol parameters registries function has been and continues to be capably provided by the Internet technical community… without any operational involvement from the NTIA."

The IETF is in fact in a position to walk away from the IANA functions contract with six months notice although it notes it would only do so "after serious consideration." The one big concern the IETF does have is if the functions are moved to an organization other than ICANN: it wants to make sure there is a suitable hand-off period to the new organization so the process continues to run without disruption.

With the IETF's work done, that leaves two other aspects to be finalized: domain names and IP address numbers.

The numbers proposal is also nearing completion, with the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) having put out their joint proposal for a second round of review. The most recent version [PDF] adds several sections but, in general, the proposal is expected to be completed soon.

That leaves the most complex and controversial aspect of the IANA contract: names. The proposal for domain names is working on a number of issues that have caused some disagreement within the internet community.

  • Whether the IANA contract should be handed over to ICANN or held by an independent third party and then awarded to ICANN
  • What related changes to ICANN's accountability there needs to be before the contract is handed over next year
  • What new structures should be created to check that the names function is properly run in future

So far, despite an enormous amount of effort, it looks unlikely that the names aspect of the contract will be able to complete its work in the planned deadline and the group behind it is expected to ask for an additional 60 days. ®


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