U.S. voices openness to private Net control
WASHINGTON--The United States may be willing to cede at least some of its historic control of the Internet domain name system after all, a U.S. Commerce Department official said Wednesday.
Despite bold statements last year that seemed to indicate otherwise and ignited a worldwide debate, John Kneuer, the acting assistant secretary for communications and information, said the government "remains committed" to private management of the DNS.
"I think the fact that we're all gathered here today and we've undertaken this process is a clear indication that we are committed to this transition," Kneuer told an audience of about 80 people at an agency-sponsored public hearing in the Commerce Department auditorium here.
The hearing came as the agency contemplates whether to renew a memorandum of understanding, dating back to 1998, between the U.S. government and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, the nonprofit organization responsible for coordinating the allocation of domain names and Internet Protocol addresses. The agreement, which establishes guiding principles for management of the DNS, is set to expire on Sept. 30, but could be renewed, as has occurred in the past.
Kneuer said the government's continuing interest in privatization doesn't clash with a list of four principles issued last summer by the Commerce Department. That brief policy statement riled up some in the international community because it asserted the U.S. government's intention to retain control over the Internet's "root," the master file that lists which top-level domains are authorized. It also indicated plans to maintain its oversight over ICANN.
The Bush administration took that position all the way to a world Internet summit in Tunisia last November. It ultimately reported it had not relinquished its Net authority but instead forged a broad agreement with its international counterparts to create an "Internet Governance Forum" under the auspices of the United Nations, scheduled to meet this fall in Greece.
The focus in the Commerce Department principles is intended to be "extraordinarily technical in nature and tied to security and stability from a technological standpoint," Kneuer said. "It should not be read so expansively as to say we're going to retain all of our historic controls."
The public speaks
It remains unclear when or if the U.S. government will fully shift to private control of the Internet DNS. Meanwhile, nearly 700 written comments from the public have streamed in to the Commerce Department about how it should proceed.
A number of the responses consisted of a two-paragraph form letter that urged the United States to "work cooperatively with all stakeholders to complete the transition to a domain name system independent of U.S. governmental control."
"No single government should have a pre-eminent role in Internet governance," read the form letter, which came from commenters in about a dozen countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, Morocco, Nigeria, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.