Internet domain transition could happen next July

The U.S. government could hand off its oversight role of the Internet domain name system by July of next year, but it could bleed into September of 2016, according to officials Wednesday.   

The timing means that the government will have to temporarily extend its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which has historically been contracted out to do the legwork coordinating the system that allows Internet users to easily search for websites using unique addresses.

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National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) head Larry Strickling during testimony Wednesday said Congress would have time to review a final deal either way.

"Before the contract can expire, we both have to have a proposal, we have to review it and approve it, you have to be satisfied with it … and it has to be implemented," Strickling told lawmakers.  

The government had wanted to finish a transition before the current contract expires in September, but it has long said an extension was possible. 

The NTIA — housed inside the Commerce Department — has an oversight role over the domain system, but that role has been largely symbolic as it contracted the functions out to ICANN. Last year, the Commerce Department tasked ICANN to lead the transition fully away from government oversight. 

A final transition plan is expected to be given to the government by early November. New accountability measures are expected to be approved within ICANN by that time as well. Fadi Chehadé, ICANN's president and CEO, said the community is still in the "sausage-making phase" for the accountability measures. 

Republicans in particular had been wary of the transition, fearing another government could exert increased control over the Internet without U.S. oversight. 

But a bill working its way through Congress has largely allayed those concerns. The Dotcom Act, which recently passed the House, would allow Congress to review a final deal for 30 legislative days before any transition goes through. It would also require accountability measures to take effect within ICANN.

"I'm assuming even if Dotcom doesn't become law, you will still give us an opportunity for review here in the Congress?" asked Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. 

"Yes," Strickling replied.