Starting on October 1, 2016, the US will take a major step in lessening its stewardship of the domain name system (DNS), when it hands over supervision of the system to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The DNS is basically a directory for internet-connected devices that helps translate domain names to numerical IP addresses.
DNS is a foundational piece of the internet, and the US has had a strong say in its supervision for the past 20 years or so. The transition of DNS to ICANN's supervision has been in the works for a few years, first being proposed in 2014, but it was only recently that the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) finally signed off on the agreement.
This transition, relative to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), won't be a huge change from the way things have been run. According to an NTIA blogpost on the transition, the NTIA initially partnered with ICANN in 1998 to begin moving DNS management to the private sector, and the NTIA's stewardship was supposed to temporary. However, it does have implications for how DNS is perceived internationally.
"This is important because there has always been a bit of nervousness from the rest of the global community of one entity having considerable power. The United States has been very fair with that power and responsibility, with the exception of the US blocking .xxx at ICANN based on prudish American values and political maneuvering," said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist for the Center for Democracy & Technology.
So, after 18 years, it isn't a huge surprise that the supervision of the DNS is moving this way. And, while some politicians, like US President Barack Obama, have shown support for the IANA transition to ICANN, others, like Ted Cruz, have been critical of the move, citing fear of potential government interference from other countries.
Despite its political ramifications, the shift will likely go unnoticed by everyday users and businesses. However, businesses should keep in mind the differences between the NTIA and ICANN, Hall said.
"For businesses, it should be business as usual; they need to understand that ICANN is (at least for the near term) a California corporation and under US legal jurisdiction," Hall said.
Additionally, the shift to ICANN could win the US some support in the international community as it steps away from DNS supervision.
"I do think everyone will get benefits from the ICANN/IANA transition to a global stakeholder community, including the business community, as it is a solid sign that the US is serious about globalization of the internet and not trying to maintain what we might call digital colonialism," Hall said.