Brief History Of The Internet, DNS Wars And A Delayed Handover

The journey of the Internet has come a long way; starting off as a U.S government project sponsored by Defense Advanced Research Project Agency Network (DARPA Net) in the late 1960’s, to transforming into the World Wide Web in 1989. The Internet we enjoy today has however not been without challenges, key among them being its governance and regulation.

Despite some set-backs, the Internet’s very nature of decentralization has cultivated a fertile public and open space, a factor that has immensely triggered its rapid growth, fostering innovation and inclusiveness.

DNS Wars

In 1994, the U.S National Science Foundation, the then overseer of the Internet infrastructure decided to subcontract the management of the Domain Name Service (DNS) to a private U.S company called Network Solutions INC. (NSI). This move was not well received by the Internet community culminating to the infamous DNS wars.

This DNS war birthed about new actors into the limelight namely International organizations and governments.

ICANN - Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

The war would end in 1998 with the establishment of a new organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), whose mandate was to manage the Internet infrastructure i.e the DNS, IP numbers, and root servers.

Controversial Relationship

The formation of ICANN to be a key player in the Internet infrastructure gave Internet actors a new lease of hope. But no sooner had the DNS Wars dust settled that a new issue emerged; that of the U.S government’s influence into ICANN.

This issue became the focus in most United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF) debates.

Despite the fact that ICANN is a multi-stakeholder institution involving a wide variety of players in their respective roles, a section of the Internet players felt that the global accountability of ICANN could be in jeopardy if the mandate was rested on one country alone, namely the U.S.

Considering that the Internet was created in the U.S with government support, the perception is that the U.S government could use this as a veto to dictate on the form and pace of the globalisation of Internet Governance (IG).

The other aspect is the issue of practical and legal consideration; the fact that ICANN is based in the U.S, IG players feel that

it is legally feasible and technically possible for the U.S to order ICANN to delete country domain names of those states perceived to be the nemesis of the U.S for instance Cuba, Iran, North Korea.

This perception led to immense calls to push for the handing over of the Internet management to a neutral body free from U.S. government interference.

Hype, Hope or Reality?

With the expiration of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions contract, a new phase of the status of ICANN was initiated by the National Telecommunication and information Administration’s (NTIA’s) announcement in March 2014.

NTIA Announces Intent to Transition Key Internet Domain Name Functions

This phase (the IANA stewardship transition) is expected to complete by 30th September 2015.

Some Internet experts have nonetheless voiced concerns over this whole transition process. They see it as a deliberate “delaying tactic” by ICANN, with their side-kick the U.S. alleged to have a hand in it.

The argument is that the management of the Internet should have directly been handed over to an International organization such as the ITU and or the UN.

As the September 2015 deadline clock ticks, the question the Internet governance actors are asking is:

  • What is likely to happen?
  • Will Internet stakeholders that are involved in the transition process stick with the “ICANN globalization” model?
  • Will things shift to the Internet getting a new international body to manage it, or will the latter just remain a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained all together?
  • In the likely event that the Internet gets a new international body to manage it, what happens to ICANN? Will it be extinct like its predecessors; the U.S National Science Foundation and Network Solutions Inc. (NSI)?

Well, all eyes are on 30th September 2015 for all the answers.

Cover Image Credit: Oliver Groth