The U.S. government is finally relinquishing its hold on ICANN, an organization that controls or influences many key pieces of Internet infrastructure. ICANN will soon operate independently, though it will continue to work closely with Washington and other governments.
The nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was created in 1998 to oversee the selection and distribution of "top-level domains" (things like .com, .org, .edu, .us, and infamously, .xxx), as well as more technical work.
ICANN operates under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Commerce, but in recent years there have been questions at home and abroad over whether a single government should have control over the Internet — especially after the leaks suggesting the National Security Agency has been subverting Internet infrastructure to its own purposes.
To that end, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Friday that it would be stepping out of its role at ICANN, transitioning it to management by "the global multistakeholder community," i.e. all the other organizations and regulatory bodies out there. ICANN has its own announcement here.
This was, in fact, always the plan, though the timing was never set in stone. From the beginning, and reiterated in documents through the years, DNS management was always in the process of being weaned, so to speak, and made private and independent.
And don't worry, it's not just a case of regulatory hot potato: "NTIA will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution." So the likes of Homeland Security won't be snapping up the responsibilities.
"All stakeholders deserve a voice in the management and governance of this global resource as equal partners," said ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade in the organization's press release.
The transition should be taking place over the next year. More information on the basics of ICANN, NTIA and the many other Internet-related acronyms relating to this topic can be found at this helpful FAQ (PDF) from the Department of Commerce.