The Internet touches the life of almost everyone, but many are unaware of how it is governed, maintained, administered or secured. It’s a global engine for economic development, education, healthcare helping to provide better lives for billions of people around the world. We know that the Internet is a massive collection of interconnected computer networks and that the most popular application running over the Internet is the World Wide Web (WWW). We’re probably also aware that the Internet began life as DARPAnet (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). DARPA was developed to be an always on communications network that used a more mail-like concept of packets of information instead of the telephone concept that you have to have both parties communicating at the same time. In its earliest days, the Internet was expanded to include a number of Universities and changed ownership from DARPA to NSF (National Science Foundation). NSF and a number of the Universities funded development of the Internet Protocol and network services that the protocol required to operate.
Organizations like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) were chartered to develop standards for the Internet. These included the Internet Protocol as well as how to develop and publish additional operational standards as the Internet evolved. Meanwhile, the U.S Commerce department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has played a stewardship role in administering the authoritative root zone file database for all top level domains as well as the other major critical system equivalent to a telephone directory service for the Internet called the Domain Name System (DNS).
DNS, of course, was invented to allow a hierarchical name space so that all of the computers connected to the Internet could be uniquely named and communicated with using IP addresses. A number registry was also established to manage the Internet Protocol addresses and ensure uniqueness, as deploying duplicate addresses could disrupt the operation of the Internet.
A major step occurred when at CERN, the computer scientists supporting Physics research needed a method to distribute their research results to colleagues around the world. The World Wide Web (WWW) was invented as a distribution method, which runs over the Internet. ICANN was established with Regional Internet Registries (RIR), which were chartered, to manage all of the IP addresses used on the Internet. Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce, National Technical Information Administration was formed — in part (as mentioned) to manage the root servers for the global Internet.
In an attempt to, among other goals, complete the privatization of the Internet the United States Government announced Friday the 14th of March 2014 that it does not plan to renew the NTIA contract with ICANN to continue administration of the Internet Identity system. This plan to transfer key Internet Domain Name administration to a Global multistakeholder community is critical to the evolution of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). Major Sessions were held recently on Monday the 24th of March at the ICANN49 meeting in Singapore to develop a plan while establishing accountability during and after the transition.
The initial preparation for this transition was laid out in 1997 Government plans and then ICANN was established the next year and awarded the first IANA contract. The NTIA has played an important role in the security and stability of the Internet and has laid out important “to do” framework for the transition plan. Since the inception of ICANN however there was a commitment to a transition that would allow the private sector to take the leadership role for DNS management.
The strength of the Internet is that is has grown organically and is not owned, operated or controlled by any entity except the users of the Internet which develop the policies through how it operates. The IETF is open to anyone that wishes to join (as is the Internet Society). While a change of stewardship of a well-established process should, on the surface, mean procedural business as usual, it is important that the proper stakeholders around the world get involved to keep the Internet free and open. It is a well-known tactic of those that wish to curtail freedom on the Internet and to censor or stifle political dissent that these transitions occur quickly. There will be many voices at the table for proper stewardship and while the U.S .was once the largest user of the Internet, that’s changed: it’s now time for the Global Community to lead the Internet into the future.