US comments on DNS 'no immediate threat'

US plans to retain 'historic role' in controlling internet

A statement by the US Department of Commerce that it intends to retain ultimate control of the internet root system has created some excitement among US technical media and commentators, but InternetNZ international committee chairman Peter Dengate Thrush sees no immediate threat to the planned shape of the internet.

Countries whose governments and internet administration bodies agree with current plans for a gradual transfer into private hands under ICAAN, including New Zealand, need see no indication of a fundamental change in position, says Dengate Thrush.

The remarks came late last month from Department of Commerce staff led by the assistant secretary of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Michael Gallagher. In an address covering the agency's latest policies on broadband, wireless spectrum allocation and other national infrastructure matters, Gallagher brought up the matter of the internet's domain name system and the administration's relationship with ICANN.

"Given the internet's importance to the world's economy, it is essential that the underlying DNS of the internet remain stable and secure," Gallagher said. "As such, the United States is committed to taking no action that would have the potential to adversely impact the effective and efficient operation of the DNS, and will therefore maintain its historic role in authorising changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file," he said.

This amounts merely to a restatement of the current position, based on Green and White Papers of internet governance issued in 1998, says Dengate Thrush. “He did not withdraw from anything that the White Paper stood for.” In particular, says Dengate Thrush, Gallagher did not discount the likelihood of a future handover to ICANN.

Dengate Thrush sees Gallagher’s statement as rather a warning to governments and country-level administrations who see the Commerce Department–ICANN arrangements as prejudicing their national sovereignty and desire to take control of their own national part of the internet.

The timing of the statement is important, he says, in view of the imminent report of the Working Group on Internet Governance, which was spawned from the Worldwide Summit on the Information Society. The report is due to be presented on July 18 or 19. Some national interests might hope it will give them increased control, so the US Commerce Department has effectively put a stake in the ground in favour of the current arrangement, says Dengate Thrush. “They have said the security of the internet is important and the current arrangement is working.”

The question still pending is when and under what conditions the complete transfer to ICANN might occur. “The next focus is the expiry of the memorandum of understanding [between the Department of Commerce and ICANN] at the end of next year.”

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