Philip S. Corwin: NTIA Says Cromnibus Bars IANA Transition During Current Contract Term

The Congressional Internet Caucus held its 15th annual State of the Net conference today at The Newseum in Washington, DC. This is traditionally a start the new year networking and information update day for the capital’s technology policy set.

Immediately following the lunch break, at a session titled “Internet Functions in Transition: Is the US and the World Ready?”, NTIA head Lawrence Strickling provided the first official Obama Administration reaction to language included in the December 2014 Omnibus Appropriations legislation (dubbed the “Cromnibus”) that forbade the NTIA from spending a single penny on transferring the IANA functions contract during fiscal year 2015 (FY 2015). The last day of FY 2015 is September 30, 2015, which exactly coincides with the final day of the current term of the IANA contract, so compliance with this Congressional exercise of its ‘power of the purse’ would implicitly require some extension of the IANA contract and the current U.S. relationship with ICANN.

In his remarks (full text below), Secretary Strickling extinguished any conjecture that NTIA might seek some loophole to allow the transition to occur during its current term, stating:

The act does restrict NTIA from using appropriated dollars to relinquish our stewardship during fiscal year 2015 with respect to Internet domain name system functions. We take that seriously. Accordingly, we will not use appropriated funds to terminate the IANA functions contract with ICANN prior to the contract’s current expiration date of September 30, 2015. Nor will we use appropriated dollars to amend the cooperative agreement with Verisign to eliminate NTIA’s role in approving changes to the authoritative root zone file prior to September 30. On these points, there is no ambiguity.

Elaborating, the Secretary also made clear that the legislative language does not, in NTIA’s view, require it to “sit on the sidelines”, and that “the [ICANN] community should proceed as if it has only one chance to get this right”.

Simultaneously, he emphasized that the ICANN community would be provided with the time it required to fashion a comprehensive and workable proposal:

I want to reiterate again that there is no hard and fast deadline for this transition. September 2015 has been a target date because that is when the base period of our contract with ICANN expires. But this should not be seen as a deadline. If the community needs more time, we have the ability to extend the IANA functions contract for up to four years. It is up to the community to determine a timeline that works best for stakeholders as they develop a proposal that meets NTIA’s conditions, but also works.

As a practical matter, NTIA’s public acknowledgement of the unambiguous nature of the appropriations language may not add a moment to the time required for the IANA transition. It was becoming increasingly clear that the parallel transition and accountability work streams are unlikely to produce a final, coordinated consensus proposal, accompanied by implemented accountability measures including required Bylaws changes, to permit a transition by September 30th.

Indeed, Secretary Strickling may have just added to the time requirements by posing a series of questions to the Community Working Group (CWG) on naming-related functions that indicate that NTIA has serious concerns about the path they are taking. After posing those questions he made clear that NTIA expected answers, declaring, “All of these questions require resolution prior to approval of any transition plan”. The CWG has already missed a January 15th target date for delivering a final set of recommendations to the IANA Coordination Group (ICG) and was unlikely to have a final product ready for them until the spring. Providing the “resolution” that NTIA just requested, and making necessary changes to its proposal, could add months to its work.

Bottom line: It now seems inevitable that NTIA will extend the IANA contract term, with the only question being whether it will be a full two year extension or some lesser amount of time. As a full extension would extend the contract into the term of the next President as well as invite international concern over the transition’s prospects, NTIA may well opt for an extension in the range of six months to a year.

Read the text of Secretary Strickling’s remarks (source):

Read Phil Corwin’s blog on CircleID