As of October 1st, 2016, ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is no longer linked to the U.S. Government.
ICANN manages the global resources of the Internet, that is to say it handles the management and coordination of Internet addresses such as IP address allocation, DNS and IP Protocols. Such functions are referred to as IANA: Internet Assigned Numbers Authority function. This particular function, managed by ICANN, was carefully guarded by the U.S. government since it is a critical function.
The emancipation of ICANN
Since October 1st, 2016 ICANN is no longer under the control of the U.S. government and in particular, the U.S. Department of Commerce or the NTIA (United States Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration).
The U.S. was committed to preserving the IANA function since the creation of ICANN in 1998. When the internet was handed over to the private sector, the U.S. government was awarded a contract placing the federal courts as the final arbiter of disputes. The U.S. thus had the final say on every ICANN decision and could block decisions perceived as contrary to its interests.
While this emancipation was a long-term stated objective since ICANN’s inception in 1998, the project materialised only after the revelations of Edward Snowden in summer 2013 and the surveillance scandal involving the NSA. Weakened with respect to global diplomacy, the U.S. had to give in to pressure from over 150 countries including China, Russia and France along with the Afnic association (Association Française pour le Nommage Internet en Coopération, historic operator of .fr). It was not only the U.S. who had control over the internet however: Chinese companies like Alibaba, Tencent or even Baidu hold the same value as GAFA(Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon).
ICANN’s independence project, aiming for 2016, was announced at ICANN’s 55th International Public Meeting in Marrakech in March 2016.
After two years of hard work and significant obstruction from US Republican Senators, negotiations finally resulted in a new arrangement, welcomed by numerous industries, prominent figures, governments, organisations.
What does this mean for the Internet and its users?
Prior to the expiration of the contract, ICANN was under the control of the U.S. Department of Commerce which had the power to force ICANN into bankruptcy. But the U.S. control over the Board of Directors has now been eliminated.
Henceforth, all Internet stakeholders will have a say and can participate in decisions. A general assembly alongside counter powers was thus created. This general assembly is made up of four groups:
– the private sector, involving stakeholders like GAFA, large companies and SMEs;
– the technical community;
– governments, composed of 160 members with one vote each;
– the civil society: consumer protection associations, civil rights associations.
If there is a consensus, this assembly may block a decision of the Board.
Americans are not excluded from any decision of ICANN. They form part of the general assembly, have a voice and can oppose any decision of the board. But with time and changing power relations, they could lose their influence.
ICANN’s main concern will therefore be to implement this new multi stakeholder model. The organisation must introduce changes in its culture so that it duly takes into account differences in culture, age, gender, language, career paths. Each community should be able to voice their concerns fully and be capable of influencing the organisation.
On its website, ICANN was pleased to announce this “historical moment”.
Needless to say that we will obtain more information during the next ICANN Congress, the 57th, to be held in India in early November 2016. Dreyfus will keep you updated about developments related to ICANN and internet governance.