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Internet kingmakers drop ego, devise future of DNS, IP addys etc

Sane IANA plan released for public comment

Five months after the release of a bloated, ego–driven mess of a plan to shift control of the top level of the internet from the US government to the internet community, a greatly improved version 2.0 has been offered for public comment.

The 90–page Response to the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group Request for Proposals on the IANA Stewardship Transition from the Cross Community Working Group on Naming Related Functions [PDF] is every bit as unreadable as it sounds but it contains key recommendations for how the domain-names element of the critical IANA contract will be handled going forward.

Most significantly, the proposal has dropped plans to create two new omnipotent bodies: one that would hold the IANA contract, and a second that would decide what happened to that contract.

Originally, the second body – which looked strikingly similar to the actual group proposing the idea – was in charge of every aspect of the process, effectively taking over the role currently held by the US government.

That proposal was repeatedly criticized as being overly complex and bureaucratic. Even the US government's representative, Larry Strickling – who will ultimately sign off on the deal – gave a speech saying it had to be scaled back.

Under the new plan, a subsidiary/affiliate of the current contract-holder, ICANN, will be created and handed the IANA contract and its related technology and staff. That subsidiary, currently called the Post-Transition IANA (PTI), would be a legal entity – most likely a nonprofit based in California – that is wholly owned by ICANN and has its own small board of directors, also selected by ICANN.

IANA: What's at stake?

The US government contracts non-profit ICANN to run the so-called IANA functions – a body that runs the highest level of the world's DNS, allocates IP addresses, and ensures developers can agree on the same numbers and protocols when writing software that communicates over the 'net. It's what keeps the internet as we know it glued together.

That crucial contract is coming to an end, and because the US wants to step away from ruling the internet like an unelected king, the future of the IANA functions is being explored by a panel of experts called the Community Working Group (CWG). ICANN, of course, would love to run IANA all by itself, simply put.

And accountability?

The missing aspects of accountability that the US government currently provides would be carried out by two bodies: the Customer Standing Committee (CSC) and the IANA Function Review Team (IFRT).

The CSC was the one aspect of the first proposal that was actually well-received. It will be comprised of people that use the IANA services and will keep an eye on the service provided to ensure that PTI meets service-level agreements (to be drawn up soon), as well as act as a complaint filtering body.

The IFRT will act in a similar way to a number of other teams that are already in place to review aspects of ICANN's work. Those review teams were drawn up in the last agreement between ICANN and the US government back in 2009, in the form of an Affirmation of Commitments (AoC).

The proposal is that the contents of the AoC will be written into ICANN's bylaws, along with the new IANA review team.

The crucial issue of "separability" – where it will be feasible to pull the IANA contract away from ICANN if it fails to maintain a decent level of service – will be handled by allowing the review team, under extraordinary circumstances, to propose that PTI be separated from ICANN.

While that's unlikely to happen in reality, the internet community is convinced that the ability to make it happen will ensure that ICANN does not grow complacent and can be pressured into improving its services over time.

The proposal suggests that that review team meet for the first time two years after the new agreement is signed and then "be convened periodically … at least every five years at most."

In summary

All in all, the new proposal provides a far more realistic and workable plan for the IANA contract going forward. There is one key missing element, however, and that is improvements to ICANN's accountability.

The proposal notes that its work – particularly the key aspect of handing the IANA contract to ICANN through a subsidiary – is entirely reliant on the parallel work being done by another group to develop accountability improvements to ICANN itself.

Those improvements include allowing the internet community to replace the ICANN's board, approve and veto important aspects like the organization's budget, and introduce binding review mechanisms that would oblige ICANN to act on recommendations for improvements.

Those changes would be made by introducing actual members to the nonprofit organization, which currently has none, and introducing new bylaws in order to empower them to overrule the board on certain issues.

So far, ICANN has resisted any and all efforts that would take decision-making power away from its staff and board. With this IANA transition proposal, the impact of such intransigence is written in black-and-white: if you want the IANA contract, you will have to make these changes.

The proposal covers just the "names" aspect of the IANA contract. The other two aspects – numbers and protocols – are, however, far less controversial, and plans for both have already been drawn up and approved by the relevant bodies.

The public comment period is open now until 20 May 2015. You can email in your comments. ®

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