Australian Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has welcomed the US government’s decision to relinquish its key role overseeing the internet’s system of web addresses and domain names.
Announced on Friday, the decision marks “a momentous day in the history of the internet” and would ensure an “open internet free from the controls of governments,” Turnbull says in a blog post on his website.
Since the dawn of the internet, the US government has been responsible for assigning the numbers that form internet addresses, as well as the domain suffixes such as 广西桑拿, and 南宁夜生活, that direct users to them.
It has also has ultimate authority over the “root zone” – the central database that links it all together.
Since 1998, the function has been subcontracted to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an international non-profit organisation, meaning the US government’s role has been one of stewardship.
That role will be transitioned to “the global multi-stakeholder community” when the current contract expires at the end of September 2015, according to a statement from the US Department of Commerce.
Stakeholders will include ICANN as well as organisations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Architecture Board and the Internet Society.
While America’s role has been largely symbolic, “it is a big symbol”, Turnbull says.
The move to hand power to non-governmental stakeholders will help defuse calls from some states, such as Russia and China, to hand oversight to government-led or inter-governmental organisations such as the United Nations and the International Telecommunication Union.
Turnbull cautioned against such calls, arguing that the success of the internet has been largely enabled by the “wide internet community” rather than governmental regulation.
He says the Australian government is “committed to supporting an open internet” administered by multi-stakeholder organisations such as ICANN, rather than by governments.
The end of US oversight will have no immediate impact for internet users, and ICANN will continue to administer the network’s key technical functions.
Turnbull says he has assured ICANN that the Australian government will assist in a smooth transition.
“We will work with the Australian and global internet community including other governments to ensure that the internet remains free, stable and resilient, and continues to be a powerful platform for freedom around the world.”