The United States government has no statutory authority over ICANN or the domain name system. However, because the Internet evolved from a network infrastructure created by the Department of Defense, the U.S. government originally owned and operated (primarily through private contractors) many of the key components of network architecture that enabled the domain name system to function.  By the late 1990s, ICANN was created, theInternet had expanded into the commercial world, and the National Telecommunications andInformation Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce (DOC) assumed the role in overseeing domain names used in the civilian portion of the Internet.

A 1998 Memorandum of Understanding between ICANN and the DOC initiated a process intended to transition technical DNS coordination and management functions to a private-sector not-for-profit entity. While the DOC plays no role in the internal governance or day-to-day operations of ICANN, the U.S. government, through the DOC/NTIA, retains a role with respect to the Domain Name System via three separate contractual agreements with ICANN and Verisign.

In 2014, as the Snowden scandal plastered across world headlines throughout the summer, ICANN (along with Internet Society, World Wide Web Consortium, Internet Engineering Task Force, Internet Architecture Board,and all five of the regional Internet address registries) took the affirmative step of calling for strengthening the current mechanisms for global multistakeholder Internet cooperation. Their recommendations included the following:

  • They reinforced the importance of globally coherent Internet operations, and warned against Internet fragmentation at a national level. They expressed strongconcern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance.
  • They identified the need for ongoing effort to address Internet Governance challenges, and agreed to catalyze community-wide efforts towards the evolution of global multistakeholder Internet cooperation.
  • They called for accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions,towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.
 The day after the Montevideo Statement was released, the President of ICANN met with the President of Brazil, who announced plans to hold an international Internet governance summit in April 2014 that will include representatives from government, industry, civil society, and academia


On March 14th, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its intent to “support and enhance the multistakeholder model of Internet policymaking and governance” and

transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community. As the first step, NTIA is asking the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to transition the current role played by NTIA in the coordination of theInternet’s domain name system (DNS). . . .  NTIA has informed ICANN that it expects that in the development of the proposal, ICANN will work collaboratively with the directly affected parties, including the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), theInternet Society (ISOC), the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), top level domain name operators, VeriSign, and other interested global stakeholders.NTIA has communicated to ICANN that the transition proposal must have broad community support and address the following four principles:

  • Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
  • Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
  • Meet the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and,
  • Maintain the openness of the Internet.
ICANN obviously was very pleased by this announcement.
Statements in support and opposition came from both sides of the aisle, although Republican opposition at times borrowed from the Ronald Reagan anti-Panama Canal Treaty playbook.



  • NTIA Announcement
  • Congressional Research Service Report on Internet Governance



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