Since the beginning of time, the U.S. has held a tight grip on administrative control of the Internet. That is, until now.
The U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced its transition plan to hand over control of the Internet's governing authority (such as it is) to the international community. Right now it's unclear who will be the NTIA's successor, but a meeting scheduled for March 24 in Singapore should hopefully clarify the next steps in the transition process.
Through its partnership with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Department of Commerce is responsible for making sure there is at least some order to the Internet, and that the trains run on time. Per the NTIA's press release:
NTIA’s responsibility includes the procedural role of administering changes to the authoritative root zone file – the database containing the lists of names and addresses of all top-level domains – as well as serving as the historic steward of the DNS. NTIA currently contracts with ICANN to carry out the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions and has a Cooperative Agreement with Verisign under which it performs related root zone management functions.
The contract between ICANN and the Department of Commerce expires at the end of next year. Should a transition plan fail to come to fruition, the U.S. would extend its contract and continue to be the web's key holder. “I welcome the beginning of this transition process that you have outlined. The global community will be included in full,” said Fadi Chehade, president of ICANN, according to the Washington Post.
Of course, ceding control of the Internet to the international community terrifies conservatives who don't like anything that resembles an outside organization giving orders to the U.S.. This plan will likely upset them. After a conference in Dubai in January, Rep. Greg Walden said he was "very concerned" about the possibility of an internationally controlled Internet.