ICANN and the future of DNS and internet

I’m sorry to put here something that is not really technical but for a blog with the name “howdoesinternetwork.com” it would be strange not to follow the story about the future of DNS governance given the fact that DNS is a crucial part of internet functionality.

You probably know how the internet works given the fact that you are visiting a blog like this. Regardless of that, it will not hurt to explain in few words the importance of DNS (Domain Name System) for a normal internet operation.

Let’s surf to se how this works

If you want to open this webpage or send an email to someone, you must enter a destination to your computer so it could know where to sent your stuff. As you are most surely a human, being, you would like to use a name like google.com for opening a webpage or an e-mail address in order to send a message to your colleagues (rather than some strange numbers separated by dots or colons). Almost all humans are like that and they want to use names and addresses. Computers, on the other hand, know to reach each other only by IP addresses.

You can see that we needed someone to take the role of the “address book” as soon as we got the internet. We can say that U.S. government basically invented the internet so they also decided who will manage it. ICANN was born to run the process of matching domain names with IP addresses around the internet. It became the authority supervising the root of DNS making sure domains are registered to right IP addresses and safe from unwanted change. They do some other stuff too, but this is, let’s say, the most important one for the internet to work properly.

So what’s happening?

In October 2016 ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) started the transition from being managed primarily by U.S government towards Multistakeholder Community.

ICANN’s contract with US NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s) expired on October 1th and US government decided that it is time to let it go without a “renewal”. In the months preceding October 2016 there was a lot of work going on at ICANN when it comes to building a good proposal of the future DNS governance model that would include private-sector and independent entities including business, academics, technical experts, civil society, governments and many others. And as it look like in this moment, they did it.

The idea is to let ICANN work without the last word of American government over the actions ICANN should take. This should be a better way of making the Internet future bright and to leave it free, open and accessible as the Internet we know today.

The result of this contract expiring and US government exit from managing ICANN is that now management and coordination of the Internet’s address book is somehow privatised and in the hands of the volunteer-based multistakeholder community.

The multistakeholder governance model or multistakeholder initiative defines a governance structure in which all stakeholders are participating together in the discourse, decision making, and implementation of solutions to common problems or goals.

Why it could be bad?

What was to happen if U.S. postponed the handover for another year or so?

Well,  not much, all the stories around are mentioning that United Nations may take control and make some extreme changes to the internet. There is always another option mentioned online that there could be a chance for European Union to form their own internet. North Korea already has one like this. But nobody really wants to have a internet that does not cover the whole globe so all this are only stories unlikely to happen.

Having more parties around the world is more fair way to run ICANN. Some real issues that can arise with multistakeholder way of running it are issues with transparency and corruption.

Transparency should always be protected and publicly available databases listing owners of domains should not be removed or edited separately. It seems to me that management of those databases is not fully defined in the new model. It must be said that they are crucial and often the only way of fighting infringement and cybersecurity fraud online.

Corruption is a huge problem in some organisations with similar structure, I hope they made a plan that will make corruption less likely in this case.

Why is that good?

Some of the politicians think that this handover would let governments like China, Iran or Russia to have greater control over the content availability. It seems that they are getting this wrong and the opposite is more likely to be true.

America created the internet and the ICANN. At that time, they decided to keep the right to control changes being made in the internet’s master list of addresses. They also decided that they will eventually pull back when ICANN proves its ability to be government independent. They are now just keeping the promise.

Most of net users nowadays live in India and China, not America, as when ICANN was created. Most of the internet traffic doesn’t even pass through U.S. anymore. After the Snowden revelation about spying and stuff, the pressure grew for America to hand over the control to an independent body.

U.S. government in 2014 rightly decided to start the transition and make ICANN independent but, in the same time, impervious to power grabs by other governments or commercial interests. ICANN implement some reforms in 2016 an the time has come to hand over the wheel.

The whole idea around the internet is to make it global and available everywhere. Huge national firewalls and strange rules forcing some types of data to be stored within a particular country did not help to make the internet the way it should be. Some of the countries like Russia or China will keep filtering and policing their own geographical parts of the internet. America leaving the oversight role at ICANN will send a strong message to other countries that no government should have a say in how the internet is run. It will also remove other countries urge to become equal to the U.S. in managing the ICANN processes.

So this is a good thing.

When you take all this together, now is the best time to finally make this transition, no matter who will be chosen as Obama’s successor, it is hard for me to think that it will know anything about how the internet works.