The internet's largest companies and providers, including Amazon, AT&T, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Time Warner and Verizon, have given a thumbs-up to plans to move the critical Internet Assigned Numbers Authority contract away from the US government.
In testimony this Wednesday to the Senate commerce committee, former US ambassador and representative of industry coalition the Internet Governance Coalition, David Gross, will say that if the current transition process is done properly it will "succeed in maintaining the freedom, openness, security, and stability of the network we have all enjoyed since its inception".
He will sound a note of caution, however, arguing that improvements in accountability are vital if domain name overseer ICANN is to be handed effective control of these vital technical functions. He will also argue that the process should not be rushed, and that the four principles outlined by the US government this time last year are closely adhered to.
"The accountability review that is under way must provide ICANN stakeholders additional and robust accountability and transparency mechanisms to ensure future stability in the absence of NTIA’s current role, and these additional mechanisms must be in place prior to or simultaneous with the transition," Gross will tell Congress in advance remarks seen by The Register.
"While the expiration of the current IANA functions contract approaches, it is most important that the transition process not be rushed, and that NTIA take the necessary time to ensure that any proposals ensure the continuation of a safe, secure, open, interoperable, and sustainable Internet, as well as a transparent and accountable ICANN."
As lead negotiator for the US government at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) back in 2005, Gross played a pivotal role in ensuring that the key parts of the internet continued to be run by private sector non-profit ICANN, rather than handed over to a United Nations body.
As such, he knows more than anyone the difficult balance needed between protecting the internet from authoritarian regimes and ensuring that the US government is not seen as unduly influencing the network's development.
In recent months there have been a number of calls for the US government to delay ending or handing over the contract, particularly among Republicans.
That has led to a number of official statements and even a rider on the finance bill to stop expenditure on the process by the relevant department, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration .
Despite one of the NTIA's four principles being that the IANA contract not be handed to a government of inter-governmental organization, some remain concerned that any move outside the US government leaves a potential path for undue influence by other governments.
Gross' answer is the same as the one put forward by the NTIA last year: allow the "multi-stakeholder" model of decision-making where everyone from civil society to business to the technical community and governments have an equal say to guide the internet's future.
"By allowing for the careful transition of the IANA to a bottom-up multistakeholder entity, the United States has affirmed its commitment to the multistakeholder model," Gross will tell the Senate committee.
Nonetheless, there are significant challenges ahead. Gross highlights the ten-year review of WSIS as well as an upcoming meeting of the Internet Governance Forum - whose creation he helped negotiate but which needs to be formally renewed by the United Nations at the end of the year - as places where the move away from American formal control will be heavily discussed.
Noting that it is "a time of great importance for preserving the fundamental principles that have governed the Internet" and a "particularly important period in the Internet’s evolution", Gross will welcome the "timeliness" of the hearing.
At that hearing, Gross will be joined by the man in charge of the transition, Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling, and CEO of ICANN, Fadi Chehade.
With three people in favor of the process, it is not expected to be a difficult or highly critical hearing, although committee members may choose to bring some of the rhetoric that has been floating around Washington circles in the past few months and argue that the process risks having over more control of the internet to countries such as Russia and China. ®