Expert Speak Digital Frontiers
Published on Jan 08, 2016
Global stakeholders help shape the future of internet governance

Over the past few decades, the Internet has transformed global communication and information. Its penetration into the lives of more than 3 billion users has been facilitated by a concept of governance that seeks input from a wide variety of stakeholders from around the world.

No single institution, be it governmental nor business, controls the Internet. And therein lies one of the reasons for its strength, resilience and global acceptance.

It may well be that 2016 will prove to be the year when the U.S. Government transitions its remaining stewardship role over some key technical functions to the international Internet community.

As many know, in March 2014, the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) asked the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to facilitate inclusive, global discussions that included the full range of stakeholders to collectively develop a proposal for the “transition.” Throughout 2015, ICANN has been focused on supporting this broad international community’s development of a proposal that will facilitate the succession of NTIA’s stewardship of these technical functions.

The functions I’m referring to are called the IANA functions. They are the set of unique identifier systems coordinated by ICANN. The IANA functions were first developed as part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), a U.S. government-funded Department of Defense network.

ICANN was created to perform the IANA Functions and has done so for more than 15 years under a no-cost contract with the Department of Commerce.

The IANA Functions include:

•  The coordination of the assignment of technical Internet protocol parameters

  The administration of certain responsibilities associated with Internet Domain Name System (DNS) Root zone management

  •  The allocation of Internet IP addresses

The IANA Stewardship Transition involves two tracks. The first is the coordination of a transition proposal itself and the second involves ways to enhance ICANN’s accountability as a global organization no longer contracted with the U.S. Government.

Over the past year, international Internet community members have worked tirelessly, and often against the clock, to get us to the closing stages of this process. Now, ICANN is on the cusp of presenting NTIA a consolidated community-developed proposal for the IANA Stewardship Transition. It will mark a substantial validation of the multistakeholder process.

The multistakeholder model of Internet Governance is based on shared principles of norms, rules and decision-making. It has served the Internet well and I am hopeful it will continue to shape the future of the Internet.

ICANN is only one of several important players in the so-called Internet ecosystem. Others include the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Society (ISOC), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), regional associations of ccTLD operators such the Asia Pacific Top Level Domain Name Association (APTLD), and regional associations of network operators such as Network Operators Group for the Asia Pacific region (APOPS).

Many of us who reside in the Internet ecosystem fully realize that the Internet’s future will be built, in part, in the emerging economies of Asia, Africa, South America and the small island-nations around the globe. We expect the next billion Internet users, and the next billion after that, to come largely from these regions. India, with the second largest Internet user base in the world – around 375 million and growing –plays an important and growing role in the future of the Internet. In the past year, Indian stakeholders have expressed intense interest in a wide variety of global cyber issues and have started the Digital India program and the Smart Cities programs.

This is a good time to reflect on the great benefits that the Internet has delivered to societies around the world over the past 40 years. Yet, there is still much to do. The Internet has become a key part of global development, far more so than we envisioned decades ago during its earliest days. There is little doubt that this technical resource must be managed with same careful consideration that we should devote to other critical resources, such as energy, air, food, transportation and shelter.

Stephen D. Crocker is the chair of the ICANN board of directors. 

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