The IANA transition process – the historic delegation of control of the root registry for the Internet’s unique identifiers from the US government to the Internet community – is underway. The group known as the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) met in London July 17 – 19. On the whole, it was a productive meeting, one that should inspire a bit of optimism about the ability of the Internet to govern itself.

The ICG brings together 30 members drawn from the internet technical community, the domain name industry, domain name users from commercial sector, noncommercial sectors and ICANN’s At Large, as well as governmental representatives nominated by the GAC. The individuals on the group are listed here. All the ICG members seemed willing to accommodate and adjust to different views; there was no evidence of a dominant faction attempting to ram its views through. Although some of the more conservative members of the group expressed some odd opinions about restricting tweeting and talking to the press, those views did not prevail. Nearly all members of the group are committed to openness and transparency; the meeting was webcast and full transcripts will be available.

In two days of intensive meetings, the ICG established the foundation for its own operations with a draft charter, and made some key decisions about its internal organization. It set an aggressive timetable – targeting the end of the IANA contact in September 2015 – and alerted the rest of the involved communities of their responsibility to develop plans for the IANA transition to meet this timetable. The ICG will not be a centralized authority that develops its own plan, but rather a coordination point where independently-developed plans for names (the DNS root), numbers (IP addresses) and protocols will converge for assembly into a final proposal to send to the NTIA. The transition will rely on these three “operational communities” (names, numbers and protocols) to develop initial proposals for how a new IANA, independent of the NTIA, will serve their areas in an accountable and secure manner in the absence of U.S. Commerce Department oversight. The names, numbers and protocols proposals will then be vetted and assembled by the ICG into a final proposal to send to the NTIA.

ICANN – charged by the U.S. Commerce Department to “convene” but not control the process – played an appropriately low-key role. It offered staff support, language translation, and travel funding for members but had no control over the agenda or substantive discussions. The committee will insist on an independent secretariat.

Importantly, the draft charter explicitly recognizes the importance of accountability and legitimacy in the IANA transition. Its third paragraph says:

The IANA stewardship transition process is taking place alongside a parallel and related process on enhancing ICANN accountability. While maintaining the accountability of Internet identifier governance is central to both processes, this group’s scope is focused on the arrangements required for the continuance of IANA functions in an accountable and widely accepted manner after the expiry of the NTIA-ICANN contract. Nevertheless, the two processes are interrelated and interdependent and should appropriately coordinate their work.

There was considerable discussion of whether the names operational communities could come up with a single consensus proposal, and whether it would happen on time. Key actors in ICANN are in the process of forming a Cross Community Working Group that includes members of the CCNSO as well as the GNSO. It remains to be seen whether the always-contentious GNSO can come to an agreement on a single consensus plan to feed into the ICG in a timely manner. But it is not only the GNSO that has to agree, there are also the country code top level domain registries and the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). Several country code representatives participating in the meeting seemed to feel that their needs and requirements are so different from those of the generic TLDs (which are directly regulated by ICANN contracts) that separate proposals would be required. Others, myself included, insisted that both ccTLDs and gTLDs rely on the same root registry and thus the two communities must develop a single, coherent plan.

The government representatives on the GAC, sensing power, were oh so keen to expand the number of GAC representatives on the ICG to 5 members rather than the 2 originally allotted to them by ICANN. Their wish was granted by the ICG after an interesting discussion. This was done primarily to increase involvement and buy-in from world regions where links to the IANA transition process would otherwise be weak. It is to be hoped that the GAC understands that the real work will be done at the level of the operational communities, and that the ICG is primarily a coordinating body. It is also to be hoped that the GAC members understand that the CCWG for developing a names proposal is not a standard ICANN policy development process governed by the ICANN bylaws, and thus GAC “advice” will have no privileged role during the end game. The final word rests not with the GAC or even the ICANN board, but with the NTIA and the general public, who must demonstrate to the NTIA that the final proposal has broad support. GAC will not be able to attempt to veto outcomes or demand adherence to its advice in the end game to make the final proposal conform to its unilateral wishes. If they want to influence the outcome, GAC members will need to help shape the proposals coming from the domain name operational communities.

The next face to face meeting of the ICG will probably be at the Istanbul Internet Governance Forum. The ICG will use that meeting to spread the word about the need for consensus proposals to come into it early next year. In the meantime, the ICG will rely on mailing lists and conference calls to continue its work. As soon as its secretariat is established it will also set up its own website on its own domain, for communicating with the public.

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