The US government wants to hear from organizations interested in running some of the internet’s key resources, including the master lists of IP address space and domain names.
The Department of Commerce last week published a request for information, a step before potentially putting a contract out to bidding, soliciting interest from anybody interested in taking over the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.
IANA is a catch-all term for three crucial internet management functions, which takes the form of a contract currently held by ICANN, the Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers.
The fact that the RFI has been published is not great news for ICANN, which just three years ago was described by Commerce as the only responsible entity that can continue to provide seamless performance of the IANA functions.
These functions are: maintaining the list of available IP address space, the database of protocol and port numbers, and the list of which servers run the world’s domain name system top-level codes.
That last function gives the IANA operator an extraordinary amount of power. Under the contract as executed by ICANN, if a country’s government wants to change who runs the local country-code top-level domain, it has to ask ICANN’s consent. It is usually given.
In Commerce’s latest RFI, that function is described as receiving requests for and making routine updates of the country code top level domain contact and nameserver information.
It’s not clear why the government has made the decision to seek out other potential bidders, after so many years of ICANN running IANA.
One rumor, put forth by ICANN watcher and blogger Bret Fausett, is that NeuStar Inc, which runs the .us domain and the North American telephone numbering plan, lobbied for the IANA contract to be rebid.
Given that it is a ccTLD operator, with .us, there would be a clear theoretical conflict of interest if it were to win the IANA contract. The company did not return a call for comment Friday.
Another organization almost certain to be interested would be CENTR, the Council of European National Top-Level Name Registries, which lobbied Commerce for a rebid in 2003.
Offshoring to a European entity would probably be a long shot, given the recent tensions between the US and Europe following an incident at a UN meeting in Tunisia, when the European Union withdrew its support for the US position on precisely this matter.
Other commercial entities likely to be interested are VeriSign Inc and Afilias Ltd, which are among the top providers of DNS services, and even possibly some of the ccTLD operators themselves.
It’s also a possibility that the three IANA functions could be broken out and given to different entities. The protocol and port number database, for example, could well be more suited to the Internet Engineering Task Force than ICANN.
There’s no money directly involved in the IANA contract. The US government does not pay ICANN to execute the contract, but ICANN is allowed to raise money contractually from its stakeholders to fund its activities.
Commercially, running IANA would be a prestigious thing to be able to tell potential customers. It’s not entirely clear if any possible future IANA operator would be able to monetize the deal in other ways.