Obama administration approves transition of Internet domain system

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The Department of Commerce gave its approval Thursday to a hotly debated plan to transition away from United States control of the domain name system.

“The Internet’s multistakeholder community has risen to the challenge we gave them to develop a transition proposal that would ensure the Internet’s domain name system will continue to operate as seamlessly as it currently does,” Larry Strickling, who heads the agency’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), said in a statement.

The domain name system helps direct users easily around the web by connecting numerical addresses with the names — like — consumers associate with websites.

{mosads}Strickling told reporters that “we have determined that the proposal in meeting our criteria has broad support from the Internet stakeholders, it will support and enhance the multistakeholder model, it will maintain the security, stability and resiliency of the domain name system, it will meet the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the IANA functions and it maintains the openness of the Internet.”

“And most importantly, the proposal meets another key condition and that is it does not replace NTIA’s role with a governmental or intergovernmental solution.”

For years, the United States has controlled the domain name system through a contract it has with a nonprofit, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The Obama administration initiated steps in 2014 to hand over control to an international group of stakeholders.

Now that the Department of Commerce has signed off on the plan, provided to the agency in March, ICANN has until August to address some issues raised by its review. The contract expires at the end of September, and Strickling said the agency would consider in “early August” whether it needs to be extended.

It’s a critical step in a transition that has been a source of significant controversy. Several tech groups support the proposal. But conservative critics of the transition say that it stands to be handled poorly or place control of a key part of the Internet in the hands of unfriendly governments.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who recently dropped out of the presidential race, introduced a bill on Wednesday that would prohibit the government from handing over control over the domain name system without Congress’s authorization. Another, less strict, bill was gaining ground last year before Cruz put a hold on it.

Lawmakers have also placed a funding restriction on the transition, but Strickling said that will only matter if the restriction extends into the next financial year.

“The transition would not take place prior to the end of this fiscal year, and so we will see what the situation will be for 2017,” he said.

“As of now the contract would expire on its own terms at the end of September,” he added. “That doesn’t require any affirmative action on our part but we are working with Congress and want to get them comfortable with our assessment of this plan and hopefully that won’t be an issue when we get to the end of September, provided ICANN’s done its work and is ready to go.”

—This story was updated at 11:49 a.m.

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