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Regulation

GOP Fails to Block Transfer of Net-Naming Operation

The task of assigning Internet addresses officially passed from US government control to the private sector over the weekend, after one last hail-Mary legal maneuver by opponents to prevent the transfer was batted down.

The transfer was years in the making, and was uncontroversial until a handful of US Republican legislators tried to make it an issue in the run-up to the Presidential election.

Eighteen years ago, ICANN contracted with the US Department of Commerce's (DoC) National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to perform the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions -- these functions are largely managing numbering and naming conventions. The contract was set to expire on October 1.

In the late 1980s, the US Department of Defense relinquished control of the precursor of the Internet (ArpaNet). The intent since then had always been for the US government to eventually transfer control of IANA functions as well. In 2014, with the expiration of the NTIA contract imminent, the US, other global government agencies, private industry, and user groups began negotiating a way to finally do it.

In recent months, however, US Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio came to oppose the move (both lawmakers were presidential candidates until each dropped out of the race). They don't seem to have any coherent objections from a networking standpoint or from a business standpoint, but they insist to this day that there might be some sort of national security issue, with China and Russia the supposed beneficiaries. Most Internet experts disagree. (See I Didn't Know Obama Owned the Internet.)

Congressional Republicans held hearings on the matter in early September, which failed in two ways. They failed to identify what the national security issues might be, and failed to inspire enough Congressional opposition to block the transfer.

Failing at the national level, Republicans attempted a last-ditch effort at the state level. On Thursday, the attorneys general of the states of Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas filed a suit in US District Court in Galveston, Texas, against several of the US agencies involved and their administrators, requesting an injunction blocking the transfer of IANA responsibilities despite the expiration of the contract with ICANN.

The Court denied the request on Friday. On Saturday, Lawrence E. Strickling, who is US Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, the Administrator of NTIA, and a defendant in the suit filed by the four AGs, issued a statement that reads in its entirety: "The federal court in Galveston, Texas denied the plaintiffs' application for declaratory and injunctive relief. As of October 1, 2016, the IANA functions contract has expired."

The new administrator of IANA functions is Public Technical Identifiers. PTI is a new organization, but is staffed by the same people who have been performing the IANA functions all along while reporting to the NTIA. PTI is affiliated with ICANN, but has a separate board.

There will be few other changes moving forward. One is that the term IANA is in the process of being phased out.

Another is that root zone requests no longer require approval of the US government. Root zones are the final suffixes of domain names (e.g., .com, .edu, .uk, etc.).

— Brian Santo, Senior Editor, Components, T&M, Light Reading

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