IGP filed comments on the Commerce Department's Further Notice of Inquiry on the IANA functions contract today. Our comments noted that there are elements in the proposed new IANA Statement of Work (SOW) which could radically alter the nature of the IANA functions contract.

Historically, the IANA contract has been a minimal framework for the supervision and auditing of changes to the DNS root. The only legitimate justification for this oversight is to ensure neutrality, transparency and accountability. The IANA contract has never been – and must not become – a mechanism by which the U.S. government attempts to influence or second-guess the policies developed by ICANN.

Section C. of the proposed SOW, however, seems to threaten this principle. In it, the NTIA proposes to require ICANN to document that each new gTLD string it wants to enter into the root enjoys “consensus support” and is “in the public interest.” Note that this review would come after the ICANN Board had already approved a TLD and sent it on the IANA for entry into the root. By making it assess consensus and public interest, NTIA seems to be asking the IANA to second-guess the ICANN Board’s decision to approve a new gTLD. Both of these documentation requirements would put the IANA in a position to veto the creation of a new TLD after it has been approved by the ICANN Board. This creates unwholesome incentives for industry players or political interests, who might oppose the creation of a specific gTLD, to lobby the IANA in an attempt to influence the outcome of its consensus and public interest determinations.

It is possible, however, that the wording of Section C. is just an unintentional error. The objectionable proposal comes in the context of NTIA’s discussion of Question 3 in the February 2011 Notice of Inquiry. Question 3 pertained specifically to “root zone management requests for country code TLDs (ccTLDs)” (our emphasis). And yet in the FNOI, NTIA has used responses to Question 3 as the basis for establishing new requirements for IANA’s delegation of new generic TLD names (gTLDs) as well. Indeed, the whole discussion mixes up gTLD and ccTLD issues in a confusing manner.

In the case of ccTLDs, it may make sense for IANA to ascertain whether a new delegation or a re-delegation enjoys consensus support among the parties involved, and serves the local and global public interest (as RFC 1591 vaguely suggests it should). It makes no sense, however, for newly approved gTLDs, which will have already passed through an elaborate, expensive process ensuring conformity to ICANN policies, to go through such a review at the hands of the IANA. We hope the NTIA can clarify whether it has confused the criteria that should be applied to the delegation or re-delegation of ccTLDs with the criteria that should be applied to the delegation of new gTLDs.

We were also surprised by NTIA’s decision to include in the IANA contract a provision that gives NTIA authority over who ICANN hires as a security director. We saw no question in the original NOI about this topic, and found in the public record no comments by any participants specifically requesting it. In general, it is a bad idea for the US Government to stick its fingers into specific staffing decisions made by what is supposed to be an independent, globally accountable private corporation (ICANN). 

Ours is not the only comment to have objected to these elements. Indeed, Section C. is notable for the fact that no one asked for it and no one seems to want it. Let's hope NTIA listens and eliminates it in the final version.