ICANN wants an IANA functions monopoly – will it wreck the transition process to get it?

At the ARIN meeting April 14, I was stunned by a presentation made by the Consolidated RIR IANA Stewardship Proposal (CRISP) Team. The CRISP team is composed of representatives drawn from the five regional Internet address registries. Everyone thought the process of developing an acceptable IANA transition proposal for numbers would be simple. Domain names was supposed to be the troublesome one; numbers was going to be the easy one. But now we are learning that what had seemed to be a smooth and stable transition for the numbers IANA functions is being undermined by ICANN’s management, and in a very disturbing way.

Back up a little. True to our initial expectations, the CRISP team turned in its IANA transition proposal back in January, right on time. It came up with a straightforward consensus proposal that attracted little controversy or public attention at the time. ICANN would continue as the IANA Numbering Services Operator, with provisions for an orderly transition to another operator should the need arise. The proposal would have the five RIRs replace the role of the NTIA as contracting authority for the number-related IANA functions. The RIRs would establish a service level agreement with ICANN’s IANA department regarding numbering services, just as the IETF has a service level agreement with ICANN for protocol-related IANA functions. The RIRs would also establish a Review Committee to review the performance of ICANN’s IANA and advise the RIRs on whether to continue with ICANN as its numbering service provider.[1]

That proposal was reviewed by the IANA stewardship coordination group (ICG) at the ICANN 52 Singapore meeting in February. The ICG deemed the proposal to be complete, consistent with the NTIA criteria, and (after some coordination with IETF) compatible with the IETF proposal for protocols. Later on during the Singapore meeting, ICANN board chair Steve Crocker said in a Public Forum that the ICANN Board felt there was “nothing fundamental in them [the numbers and protocol parameters communities’ proposals] that we have a problem with, full stop.”

So you can imagine my surprise when participants in the ARIN meeting in mid-April learned that the CRISP team was embroiled in contentious negotiations with ICANN, and that ICANN legal was demanding major changes in their plan.

Here is some of the language from the slides (see especially number 18-20) presented by Bill Woodcock, an ARIN board and CRISP team member:

The areas we’re furthest apart on in negotiation are related: termination and separability of the three communities’ IANA functions operators. ICANN has verbally represented that they will reject any proposed agreement in which ICANN is not deemed the sole source prime contractor for IANA functions in perpetuity.

ICANN asserts that neither NTIA nor the US Congress will approve any transition plan which leaves open the possibility of a future non-US IANA Functions Operator. This directly conflicts with three of our explicit hard requirements….

Since this appears to contradict Steve Crocker’s assertion on behalf of the ICANN board has no fundamental disagreement with the CRISP Principles, we invite ICANN to clarify this issue on the record, so that we can make progress.

What is wrong with this picture? So many things that one hardly knows where to start. If Woodcock’s report is accurate (and no one has challenged it yet), it means that ICANN’s legal department and/or its CEO have already decided that only one solution to the transition is possible: ICANN must remain “the sole source prime contractor for IANA functions in perpetuity.” Since all three communities (names, numbers and protocols) have made separability (i.e., the ability to change to a different IANA functions operator) a requirement of the post-NTIA world, this is truly alarming. ICANN seems to be using these contract negotiations to undo the community process. Worse, these reports seem to indicate that ICANN’s staff are viewing themselves, rather than the formal IANA transition process shepherded by the ICG, as the final authority on the transition. It also means that behind the scenes, ICANN’s staff is claiming to speak on behalf of the NTIA, and even the U.S. Congress regarding what solutions are or are not acceptable. This attempt to veto ideas by appealing to a silent third party authority poisons the transition dialogue. Worse yet, the gap between what the board is saying in public and what the staff is doing in private is astounding. Either the board is not telling the truth when it assures the ICG and the broader community that they respect the results of the bottom up process, or the staff members involved in these negotiations are acting without their knowledge and approval. Needless to say, we are pretty sure that Steve Crocker and other board members are not lying.

So many questions remain: Why is ICANN staff viewing the results of the IANA transition process as something subject to their negotiations? Why are negotiations happening even before the final proposal is assembled? Why is the CRISP team even discussing this with ICANN behind the scenes? The NTIA told ICANN to “convene” the transition process, but made it very clear that it was not being given control of the process. Indeed, independence of the ICG process from ICANN was deemed so important that ICANN was not given any control over the appointment of ICG members and an independent secretariat was hired for the ICG to replace the role of ICANN staff in running ICG’s operations.

But wait, there’s more. Shortly after the ARIN meeting we learned that ICANN staff is playing hardball with the IETF as well. The IETF has had a MoU with ICANN regarding its performance of the protocol-related IANA functions for 15 years. Each year they have updated the SLA with a Supplemental MoU. This year, however, the IETF has so far been unable to obtain an updated MOU, according to the minutes of the 8 April 2015 IAB meeting. Indications are that ICANN is not being cooperative.

There seems to be a consistent agenda behind these disturbing actions. Perhaps ICANN is starting to realize that if it recognizes the principle of severable contracting for protocols and numbers it will have to recognize it for names, too. Apparently, maintaining a perpetual monopoly on the IANA functions is very, very important to ICANN, Inc., so it is leveraging its status as the incumbent IANA functions operator, with which all three operational communities must negotiate, to ensure that the outcome of the IANA transition process does not threaten its control.

ICANN staff’s tough treatment of the CRISP team and IETF clearly show how different things could become once USG oversight is ended and ICANN feels that it has an unbreakable monopoly on the IANA functions. If there was any doubt before about whether the absence of NTIA oversight will make any difference in the way ICANN behaves, there should be none now.

Those who claim that ICANN’s good performance of the IANA functions in the past, under NTIA supervision, means that we needn’t bother with “complex” new organizational arrangements that compensate for the loss of NTIA accountability are, we think, being proved wrong. But it’s good that this is happening now, before the die is fully cast. Just imagine bargaining with ICANN once it has all the marbles.

[1] In line with the principle of contracting, they also asked that ownership of the IANA trademark and iana.org domain name be made independent of any specific IANA functions operator, so that if a new provider became necessary there would be no confusion. This was slightly different from the IETF proposal and involved a shared resource (the domain), so it required the ICG to assist IETF and the CRISP team to come to reconcile their positions. This reconciliation happened very quickly.


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  2. Bill Woodcock

    A few clarifications on behalf of the CRISP Team:

    First, the CRISP Team is not engaged in any negotiations, with ICANN or anyone else. That task belongs to the RIR legal team, which consists of one representative of the legal staff of each of the five RIRs. While the CRISP Team represents the whole global Numbers community, the RIR legal team represents the five RIRs, who would ultimately be the signatories to the Numbers SLA. The CRISP Team assembles the community’s position and principles, it doesn’t negotiate with ICANN.

    Second, the CRISP Team is not engaged in any “behind the scenes discussion.” All CRISP Team communications are on the public record. There is no CRISP Team communication happening which is not visible to everyone, in the crisp@nro.net mailing list archive and the call minutes.

    Third, please note that the session at the ARIN meeting consisted of several segments, only the first of which (the slides presented by John Sweeting) was CRISP Team communication. Michael Abejuela was speaking on behalf of the RIR legal team, which had been drafting the SLA based on the CRISP Team Principles. I spoke purely on my own behalf, of my own observations of the process and potential difficulties in arriving at a timely and favorable conclusion. Speaking on my own behalf, I was able to communicate a little more frankly than would have been appropriate for the CRISP Team to do.

    Those particulars aside, the rest of your description of the situation seems accurate to me. The IAB minutes that you cite are particularly worthy of note: that ICANN is _refusing to renew_ the MOU under which they provide Protocol Registry services to the IETF, because it contains a termination clause, I find very disturbing. I have to admit that if I were in the IETF’s shoes, I might very well just take ICANN at their word and go on my merry way, if they say they don’t want to renew the agreement.

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