Two-thirds done: The IANA transition in Singapore

The Singapore ICANN meeting (ICANN #52) is an inflection point in the IANA stewardship transition. The numbers and protocols processes have proceeded relatively smoothly, though not without minor hiccups, and reasonable proposals have been developed and are being reviewed. The names process, predictably, is taking longer.

On the whole, the process seems to be working. On Friday and Saturday, the IANA Stewardship Coordination Group (ICG) met and succeeded in assessing proposals submitted by the IETF for protocol parameters and the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) for numbers. While the failure of the domain names Cross-community Working Group (CWG) to converge on a common approach raises concerns, it does not yet constitute a serious setback to the process. In response to a request from the ICG, the CWG prepared a revised “best case” timeline that pushes the expected completion of the proposal for domain names back to June of 2015. For now, the only visible effect of that delay is to push back the overall timeline by a few months, because the U.S. Congress has already passed a law preventing the NTIA from terminating the contract before September 30, 2015. Indeed, the U.S. Congress is now circling about the process intently, declaring this week “Internet Governance awareness week” to encourage public awareness of the transition and education about the importance of it.

Both the IETF/protocol parameter proposal and the RIRs’ proposal for numbers would retain ICANN as the IANA functions provider for the time being. But both proposals established (or, in the case of IETF, retained) a severable contractual relationship with ICANN. The ICG had extensive debates and discussions about these proposals, but did not find it difficult to reach agreement on key action items. Both proposals were deemed complete, both weathered process challenges, and only one clarification question and one question regarding the compatibility of the proposals will be asked of the respective communities.

The ICG examined process challenges raised in both operational communities. To its credit, the ICG resisted pressure from some of the technical community members to brush aside all comments about the IETF and RIR processes, and spent some time considering them.

The most significant action item of the ICG was to transmit to the IETF and RIRs a question about how they will handle the domain and the IANA trademark currently ‘owned’ by ICANN. In the IETF process, this issue was one of the key points of disagreement. The IETF decided that a specific proposal about IANA-related trademarks and domains was not a requirement of the transition plan, opting instead for more generic assurances that the IANA functions would remain nonproprietary and that ICANN would cooperate with any future attempt to transfer the protocol parameter IANA functions to another operator. The numbers proposal, in contrast, considered changes in the IANA trademark and domain a requirement of the transition, saying:

With regards to the IANA trademark and the IANA.ORG domain, it is the expectation of the Internet Number Community that both are associated with the IANA Numbering Services and not with a particular IANA Numbering Services Operator.

The numbers proposal called for identifying an organization to “permanently hold these assets” that is “independent of the IANA Numbering Services Operator.” It noted that doing so “will facilitate a smooth transition should another operator (or operators) be selected in the future.” The numbers proposal suggested that the IETF Trust would be an acceptable candidate for this role. In sum, the RIRs made a stronger commitment to separability and recognized that ICANN’s ownership of the IANA domain and trademark constituted a potential barrier to effective separability. This was precisely the course of action advocated by a sizable faction in the IETF’s IANAPLAN working group. Contention over this issue was the main reason the group could only obtain rough, rather than full, consensus. Because the control of the IANA domain and trademark affects both of them, the ICG will ask the numbers and protocols communities to consider whether they can converge on a common approach to this issue.

The protocol parameters and numbers proposals are simpler, and involve a far smaller and less diverse group of stakeholders than the names community. One reason they are simpler is that the policy making community for numbers and internet standards is already structurally separate from the central registry functions provided by IANA, so creating or strengthening a contractual relationship that keeps IANA accountable is not as difficult.

On the whole, the actions of the ICG in Singapore means that two-thirds of the components of the final IANA transition proposal are just about ready. Indeed, in theory it would be possible for numbers and protocol parameters to be submitted to the NTIA and removed from the Commerce Department IANA functions contract in plenty of time to make the original September 30 2015 deadline. The Commerce Department has indicated, however, that it prefers to receive a single proposal incorporating names, numbers and protocol parameters. That is still possible within a reasonable time frame, but the names community is still struggling with the basic problem: the domain name industry generates the money that funds everything, and ICANN is in the strange position of controlling both policy development and the implementation of policy via IANA, whereas those two functions are separated in numbers and protocols.

Our next blog post will deal with the big debate over the names proposal: the “separability” of the IANA functions from ICANN.

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