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US government ends formal oversight role for internet address system

Despite a last-minute legal challenge, the long-planned end to US government oversight of the internet address system is being passed to a non-profit entity. It is being called the most significant change in years.

The California-based not-for-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) manages the internet's so-called "root zone." The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is a department of ICANN responsible for coordinating some of the key elements that keep the internet running smoothly.

Industry commentators are calling the change the most significant for a generation in the way the internet functions. The contract essentially defined how the internet has grown and has been structured for nearly 20 years. While nothing will change for ordinary internet users, it marks the first time that a new communications technology has been released from government control, rather than drawn into it.

Lawrence Strickling, who heads the Commerce Department unit which has managed these functions, issued a brief statement early Saturday confirming the transition of the IANA, which controls numbers for protocols, the Country Code Top Level Domains and maintains IP Address allotments. "As of October 1, 2016, the IANA functions contract has expired," he said.

ICANN's board chairman Stephen Crocker was one of the engineers who developed the early internet protocols. He welcomed the end of the contract: "This transition was envisioned 18 years ago, yet it was the tireless work of the global internet community, which drafted the final proposal, that made this a reality," he said in a statement.

ICANN manages the database for top-level domain names such as .com and .net and their corresponding numeric addresses that allow computers to connect to the internet.

"This community validated the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance," Crocker said. "It has shown that a governance model defined by the inclusion of all voices, including business, academics, technical experts, civil society, governments and many others is the best way to assure that the internet of tomorrow remains as free, open and accessible as the internet of today."

The plan to move ICANN to international oversight began in the 1990s. The formal plan was announced in March 2014.

Legal challenge

On Wednesday, the transfer met a last-minute legal challenge from the Republican states of Arizona, Texas, Nevada and Oklahoma. Their lawsuit against the federal government argued the handover was unconstitutional and required congressional approval.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas had called the transfer a "giveaway to Russia" and other governments, as it could allow authoritarian regimes to seize control.

But in a ruling on Friday, a federal judge in Texas denied the lawsuit to halt the transition.

jm/jlw (Reuters, AFP)

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