Such is the power and importance of the World Wide Web as a means of communication that there are many who view America’s apparent openness to reducing its influence over it with considerable scepticism. It’s a subject that has been brought back into sharp focus this week following the much anticipated release of the proposal for how the US can relinquish supervision of the non-profit organisation that currently acts as custodian.
The 199-page document compiled by an international group of Internet experts is the latest development of an issue that initially hit the headlines last year when the US commerce department agreed to transfer its stewardship of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to a global network of interested parties, and asked ICANN to formulate a plan to make it happen.
Speculation over how ICANN would operate independently has been rife ever since, especially in the US where some Republican lawmakers have raised concerns that the transition could result in other countries taking control of the Internet.
ICANN has managed the master database for top-level domains such as .com and .net and their corresponding numeric addresses since 1998. Collectively the administration of domains is known as Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA).
Governance of ICANN is currently overseen by a group of academics, technical experts, private industry and government representatives, public interest advocates and individual users from around the world. This new proposal recommends creating a standalone subsidiary to control the technicalities of domain name management under a contract with ICANN.
To guard against accountability fears and concerns over what would happen were IANA functions not performed appropriately, those supporting the transition insist that the new proposal retains the current ICANN mechanism that allows for the alarm to be raised within stakeholder communities should such circumstances unfold.
The proposal also suggests that ICANN itself take over the role being played by the US government, supported by an oversight committee and a review process contributed to by a number of interested but non-governmental parties.
Legislation in the US has been passed that obliges the Obama administration to present the proposal to Congress, with the transition, if passed, now expected in mid-2016. The official window for public comment may only be open until 8 September, but such is the depth of feeling on the matter that it would be naive to think that opinion will subside after that date.
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