A major step was taken Thursday in the U.S. government’s plan to hand off oversight of the Internet domain name system.
A nonprofit international group approved a plan and forwarded it to the Obama administration Thursday for review and approval.
The group, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), has historically been contracted out to manage the behind-the-scenes workings of the Internet that pair up numerical IP addresses with their familiar Web addresses.
A few years ago, the group was tasked with transitioning fully from U.S. government oversight to an international multistakeholder model.
The Commerce Department will have to sign off on the transition plan before it is allowed to go forward. But the Obama administration and Congress have been “watching closely,” said Steve Crocker, who leads ICANN’s board of directors.
“This proposal does not come as a surprise that requires a fresh start or a cold start and we fully expect that this will be viewed as 100 percent consistent with the criteria that was set out in advance and that which has been tracked all the way throughout the process,” Crocker said.
ICANN officials said Thursday the plan should meet the U.S. government’s priorities to protect the open Internet and to prevent any other government from gaining control. It also includes security and accountability measures, they said, and if the plan is implemented, Internet users should see no real difference.
Some Republicans have remained wary of the transition and Congress has blocked government funds from being used to finish the handoff for the past several years. Last year’s spending blocked the funds from being used until at least October.
In the past, the GOP expressed fear that the U.S. government’s handoff could allow other nations — specifically those that have a poor track record on Internet freedom — to gain more leverage over the Internet.
Some of those worries have been allayed by a number of accountability measures implemented by the non-profit group handling the transition. And the Commerce Department has repeatedly said it would reject any proposal that does not maintain the open Internet or allows for other governments to gain control.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and some others have continued to resist the transition, however. He has said Congress should have to vote before the administration signs off, but he has not succeeded in requiring that. Recently, he has accused the outgoing president of ICANN of having conflicts of interest.
The control that is being handed off relates to some of the technical functions that help users seamlessly search the Internet.
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has had oversight of the Internet’s domain name system, and it has historically contracted that role out to ICANN.