After years of demurral United States to hand over control of DNS to ICANN effective this October

We have been hearing for years that the DNS will be handed over to ICANN but that never fructified. However, after years of refusal, United States of America is finally handing over the reins of the Internet to ICANN.

In an announcement made on August 16, 2016, the U.S. National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) said it was ready to surrender control over the Internet domain name system (DNS) infrastructure to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organization effective October 1, 2016. The DNS is basically a directory for internet-connected devices that helps translate domain names to numerical IP addresses. In other words, it is responsible for holding and pairing web addresses or its URL to its respective servers.

DNS is a foundational piece of the internet, which has been under the control of the state for the last 20 years. Even though the terms of the transition of DNS to ICANN’s supervision had been agreed upon in 2014, it was only recently that the NTIA finally signed off on the agreement. The transition would still have both parties to be ready to take the necessary steps to make the transition. The U.S. government cannot make the transfer not until ICANN is ready with the transition.

“The IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) stewardship transition represents the final step in the US government’s long-standing commitment, supported by three Administrations, to privatize the Internet’s domain name system,” NTIA chief Lawrence Strickland said this week.

“For the last 18 years, the United States has been working … to establish a stable and secure multi stakeholder model of Internet governance that ensures that the private sector, not governments, take the lead in setting the future direction of the Internet’s domain name system,” he added.

“To help achieve this goal, NTIA in 1998 partnered with ICANN, a California-based non-profit, to transition technical DNS coordination and management functions to the private sector. NTIA’s current stewardship role was intended to be temporary.” However, it does have implications for how DNS is perceived internationally.

The handover won’t change anything for the 3.5 billion people connected to the internet. That’s because U.S. control has been largely administrative: it doesn’t get involved on a day-to-day basis.

“This is important because there has always been a bit of nervousness from the rest of the global community of one entity having considerable power. The United States has been very fair with that power and responsibility, with the exception of the U.S. blocking .xxx at ICANN based on prudish American values and political maneuvering,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist for the Center for Democracy & Technology.

So, after 18 years, it is not a huge surprise that the supervision of the DNS is moving this way. While some politicians, like U.S. President Barack Obama, have shown support for the IANA transition to ICANN, senators like Ted Cruz, as well as Mike Lee, and Rep. Sean Duffy are known to have reached out their concerns to the administration in a form of a letter. The Republicans cite their negative sentiments over the transfer as a “planned Internet giveaway.”

The shift will likely go unnoticed by everyday users and businesses despite its political complications. However, businesses should remember the differences between the NTIA and ICANN, Hall said.

“For businesses, it should be business as usual; they need to understand that ICANN is (at least for the near term) a California corporation and under US legal jurisdiction,” Hall said.

Additionally, as the U.S. steps away from DNS supervision, the shift to ICANN could likely win them some support in the international community.

“I do think everyone will get benefits from the ICANN/IANA transition to a global stakeholder community, including the business community, as it is a solid sign that the US is serious about globalization of the internet and not trying to maintain what we might call digital colonialism,” Hall said.