The internet's move away from US government control took a significant step forward Wednesday with the signing of a new contract.
The agreement between DNS overseer ICANN and the five regional internet registries (RIRs) AFRINIC, APNIC, ARIN, LACNIC and RIPE covers the provision of public IP addresses across the internet – a critical component in the network's functioning.
In it, the RIRs agree that ICANN will continue as their coordinator and administrator, but will be obliged to meet a new set of operational benchmarks as well as sign up to some new obligations such as periodic reviews. There will also be a new arbitration process in case of any future disputes.
The contract [PDF] – represented as a "service level agreement" – results in the continuation of the role ICANN has played for over a decade, but with ICANN as an independent entity rather than under contract with the US government. In return for its role, ICANN will be paid $650,000 a year.
With the signing of the contract at ICANN's meeting in Helsinki, one of three pillars of the IANA contract has been put in place, leaving the way open for ICANN to take it over from the US government on September 30 this year.
However, the agreement also recognizes continued uncertainty about whether that will happen on the expected timeline. The agreement will not come into effect until the IANA transition takes place, and it includes a clause that would see the whole deal scrapped if that transition doesn't happen before 1 October 2017.
Although the transition is expected to go ahead as planned this year, opposition in the US Congress may delay it until after the presidential elections.
The RIRs were quick to reach agreement between themselves over how ICANN could take over its long-held role to the extent that they started expressing frustration with the delays caused by the numbering community (domain names). And that is reflected in the fact that it would require a unanimous decision by them all to change or annul the agreement once in place.
Aside from one period when ICANN's lawyers attempted to pressure the RIRs into adding wording to the agreement that would have given ICANN the right to run the IANA contract in perpetuity – something that RIRs refused to do – the process has been relatively smooth.
That, in large part, is because ICANN has played a very limited role in the allocation of IP addresses in recent years, serving more as a documenter of RIR collective decisions than an active decider.
The impact of the signing will not be noticed by internet users: it will be business as usual, albeit with a few behind-the-scenes improvements. That's an end result that the internet infrastructure industry will be very happy with. ®