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Lennard G. Kruger, The Future of Internet Governance: Should the U.S. Relinquish Its Authority Over ICANN? (CRS Report R44022) (Mar. 22, 2016) (full-text).


Currently, the U.S. government retains limited authority over the Internet's domain name system, primarily through the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions contract between the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

By virtue of the IANA functions contract, the NTIA exerts a legacy authority and stewardship over ICANN, and arguably has more influence over ICANN and the domain name system (DNS) than other national governments.

On March 14, 2014, NTIA announced the intention to transition its stewardship role and procedural authority over key Internet domain name functions to the global Internet multi-stakeholder community. To accomplish this transition, NTIA has asked ICANN to convene interested global Internet stakeholders to develop a transition proposal. NTIA has stated that it will not accept any transition proposal that would replace the NTIA role with a government-led or an intergovernmental organization solution.

Internet stakeholders are engaged in a process to develop a transition proposal. Final draft proposals were released in July/August 2015. While the IANA functions contract was due to expire on September 30, 2015, NTIA has the flexibility to extend the contract for any period through September 2019. NTIA expects that it will receive a final transition proposal in November 2015 with additional time necessary for review, testing, and implementation. On August 17, 2015, NTIA announced that the IANA contract will be extended for one year until September 30, 2016.

The proposed transition could have a significant impact on the future of Internet governance. National governments are recognizing an increasing stake in ICANN and DNS policy decisions, especially in cases where Internet DNS policy intersects with national laws and interests related to issues such as intellectual property, cybersecurity, privacy, and Internet freedom. How ICANN and the Internet domain name system are ultimately governed may set an important precedent in future policy debates — both domestically and internationally — over how the Internet should be governed, and what role governments and intergovernmental organizations should play.