This was rumored for a while, but the Commerce Department has now said that it will be "relinquishing"
its "control" over ICANN's IANA, which administers the basic structure of the internet domain system. You can read the details here
. Of course, the US government's "control" over ICANN/IANA has always been a lot more on paper than in reality. From the beginning, while the Commerce Department technically had oversight concerning ICANN, it had always been careful to live up to its promise that ICANN was to be independent of the US government. So, while some are making a big deal
over this, it's unclear if it will really matter that much.
The big fear over the past few years was that certain foreign interests -- lead by authoritarian regimes in China and Russia (with long track records of censoring the internet and stifling dissent) -- would take control of the internet
away from ICANN via the ITU, an organization that's a part of the UN. That was extremely problematic on a number of levels, given in part that the ITU process is entirely controlled by country governments without input from other stakeholders, such as technologists. ICANN is far from perfect (very
far from perfect), but the ITU would be significantly worse
However, from what's being said, it appears that the Commerce Department's plan is conditional on the UN/ITU not getting control
, and for internet governance to remain a multi-stakeholder process, rather than one solely controlled by governments.
U.S. officials set strict conditions and an indeterminate timeline for the transition from federal government authority, saying that a new oversight body must be created and win the trust of crucial stakeholders around the world, said Lawrence Strickling, a top Commerce Department official. The announcement essentially ruled out the possibility that the United Nations would take over the U.S. role, something many nations have advocated and U.S. officials have long opposed.
That's a good thing. From what's being said, it sounds like the Commerce Department would like ICANN to continue more or less the way it has been running, just without the official claim to being overseen by the Commerce Department. Could that lead to troubles down the road? Sure. But, frankly, the US more or less forced itself into this position with its idiotic decision to let the NSA spy on everything. Before that, plenty of other countries were happy with de facto US "control" over the internet. But once it became clear just how deep the NSA's claws were within the internet, even former allies began to demand changes
While the ICANN model can be improved upon (greatly), it can also be much, much worse. So where this goes will need to be watched closely. But, on a first pass, simply taking the Commerce Department's name off of things should have little direct impact for the time being. And, of course, it's worth remembering, that before ICANN, the internet was more or less governed (benevolently) by this guy