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June 30, 2016: The day the US will hand over control of the internet

Better late than never

It is going to take until the end of June next year for the US government to formally hand over control of the top level of the internet.

That’s according to the CEO of the organization that runs the IANA functions that keep the 'net glued together, and which is expected to take over the job on a more permanent basis.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of ICANN's 53rd meeting held in Buenos Aires, chief exec Fadi Chehade acknowledged that the deadline of 30 September this year is not going to be met.

Chehade also acknowledged the news this morning that the Dotcom Act is very likely to be approved by the US Congress, pulling the legislative body into the power-transition process and further delaying it.

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 the US wants to step away from ruling the internet like an unelected king.

The IANA contract itself comprises three main functions: names, numbers and protocols. Transition plans for the later two are largely agreed but the most complex issue of names 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.

Combined with the time it will take to implement the changes that are being proposed as part of the "transition," the likely handover date will be 30 June 2016 – or, as Chehade put it within the self-referential ICANN world – "the end of ICANN 56", meaning its 56th meeting to be held in Latin America on June 27 to 30, 2016.

The news does not come as a surprise to those following the process: we flagged the June 2016 date six weeks ago. However, no one has been willing to say publicly that the original September deadline will not be met.

Three phases

Partly as a sop to critics, Chehade outlined a "three phase" process. The first phase – the actual plan to transition the IANA contract – "may" be ready in time for ICANN's next meeting in Dublin at the end of October, although Chehade noted he didn’t think it would be a problem if it took "a month or so longer."

The second "phase" will be US government approval, which will come in two forms: sign-off from the US Commerce Department (which holds the IANA contract) which ICANN estimates will take two to three months; then certification of the plan to the US Congress, and then 30 legislative days for Congress to review it (in reality, 45 to 60 days).

This phase derives from the fact that the Dotcom Act will be voted on in the House of Representatives on Tuesday having been added to the raft of bills that are not expected to face any serious debate ("under suspension of the rules" in the parlance). That means it is expected to pass with more than two-thirds of the house in support, which also points to very likely Senate approval.

The Dotcom Act basically requires the US Department of Commerce's telecoms body, the NTIA, to certify that the IANA transition plan meets all its criteria, and then gives Congress 30 days to review the plan. It would have to pass another bill to stop the transition.

Everyone in the US political establishment benefits from this approach: the NTIA gets the "approval" of Congress, removing potentially tricky legal considerations; Congress gets to have its say and officially be in charge; and the Obama administration knows it can veto any subsequent bill that may seek to put an end to the transfer. In other words, everyone saves face.

And to finish

The third phase of the IANA transition, the actual implementing of the plan, will take three months.

All of which adds to 30 June 2016. And a result, the ICANN community is expected to ask the US government for a nine-month extension to the current IANA contract – due to expire on 30 September this year – as we predicted at the start of May.

This timeline also highlights what we highlighted last month – that Chehade will not be in charge of ICANN when the historic transition happens. Chehade made a surprise announcement on May 21 that he would be leaving in March 2016, a full 15 months before his contract was due to expire.

Asked in a public meeting on Sunday why he was quitting, especially when he told attendees moments earlier that it was "the best job that I’ve ever had, or will ever have," Chehade told the organization's main policy body, the GNSO: "The next phase of ICANN requires a different person. I am a classic change-agent CEO. ICANN doesn’t need this now." ®

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