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Lennard G. Kruger, Internet Governance and the Domain Name System: Issues for Congress (CRS Report R42351) (Nov. 18, 2016) (full-text).


National governments have recognized an increasing stake in ICANN policy decisions, especially in cases where Internet policy intersects with national laws addressing such issues as intellectual property, privacy, law enforcement, and cybersecurity. Some governments around the world are advocating increased intergovernmental influence over the way the Internet is governed. For example, specific proposals have been advanced that would create an Internet governance entity within the United Nations (U.N.). Other governments (including the United States), as well as many other Internet stakeholders, oppose these proposals and argue that ICANN's multistakeholder model is the most appropriate way to govern the Internet.

Previously, the U.S. government, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the Department of Commerce, held a "stewardship" role over the domain name system by virtue of a contractual relationship with ICANN. On March 14, 2014, NTIA announced its intention to transition its stewardship role and procedural authority over key domain name functions to the global Internet multistakeholder community. NTIA also stated that it would not accept any transition proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an intergovernmental organization solution.

For two years, Internet stakeholders were engaged in a process to develop a transition proposal that would meet NTIA's criteria. On March 10, 2016, the ICANN Board formally accepted the multistakeholder community's transition plan and transmitted that plan to NTIA for approval. On June 9, 2016, NTIA announced its determination that the transition plan met NTIA's criteria and that the plan was approved. On September 30, 2016, the contract between NTIA and ICANN expired, thus completing and implementing the transition.

With the transition now complete, Congress may continue assessing how effectively NTIA is advancing U.S. government positions within the Governmental Advisory Committee. Of particular interest may be to what extent ongoing and future intergovernmental telecommunications conferences constitute an opportunity for some nations to increase intergovernmental control over the Internet — at the expense of the multistakeholder system of Internet governance — and how effectively NTIA and other government agencies (such as the State Department) are working to counteract that threat.