Centre for Internet & Society

As we stand at the threshold of the IANA Transition, we at CIS find that there has been little discussion on the question of how the transition will manifest. The question we wanted to raise was whether there is any merit in dividing the three IANA functions – names, numbers and protocols – given that there is no real technical stability to be gained from a unified Post Transition IANA. The analysis of this idea has been detailed below.

The Internet Architecture Board, in a submission to the NTIA in 2011 claims that splitting the IANA functions would not be desirable.[1] The IAB notes, “There exists synergy and interdependencies between the functions, and having them performed by a single operator facilitates coordination among registries, even those that are not obviously related,” and also that that the IETF makes certain policy decisions relating to names and numbers as well, and so it is useful to have a single body. But they don’t say why having a single email address for all these correspondences, rather than 3 makes any difference: Surely, what’s important is cooperation and coordination. Just as IETF, ICANN, NRO being different entities doesn’t harm the Internet, splitting the IANA function relating to each entity won’t harm the Internet either. Instead will help stability by making each community responsible for the running of its own registers, rather than a single point of failure: ICANN and/or “PTI”.

A number of commentators have supported this viewpoint in the past: Bill Manning of University of Southern California’s ISI (who has been involved in DNS operations since DNS started), Paul M. Kane (former Chairman of CENTR's Board of Directors), Jean-Jacques Subrenat (who is currently an ICG member), Association française pour le nommage Internet en coopération (AFNIC), the Internet Governance Project, InternetNZ, and the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA).

The Internet Governance Project stated: “IGP supports the comments of Internet NZ and Bill Manning regarding the feasibility and desirability of separating the distinct IANA functions. Structural separation is not only technically feasible, it has good governance and accountability implications. By decentralizing the functions we undermine the possibility of capture by governmental or private interests and make it more likely that policy implementations are based on consensus and cooperation.”[2]

Similarly, CADNA in its 2011 submission to NTIA notes that that in the current climate of technical innovation and the exponential expansion of the Internet community, specialisation of the IANA functions would result in them being better executed. The argument is also that delegation of the technical and administrative functions among other capable entities (such as the IETF and IAB for protocol parameters, or an international, neutral organization with understanding of address space protocols as opposed to RIRs) determined by the IETF is capable of managing this function would ensure accountability in Internet operation. Given that the IANA functions are mainly registry-maintenance function, they can to a large extent be automated. However, a single system of automation would not fit all three.

Instead of a single institution having three masters, it is better for the functions to be separated. Most importantly, if one of the current customers wishes to shift the contract to another IANA functions operator, even if it isn’t limited by contract, it is limited by the institutional design, since iana.org serves as a central repository. This limitation didn’t exist, for instance, when the IETF decided to enter into a new contract for the RFC Editor role. This transition presents the best opportunity to cleave the functions logically, and make each community responsible for the functioning of their own registers, with IETF, which is mostly funded by ISOC, taking on the responsibility of handing the residual registries, and a discussion about the .ARPA and .INT gTLDs.

From the above discussion, three main points emerge:

  • Splitting of the IANA functions allows for technical specialisation leading to greater efficiency of the IANA functions.
  • Splitting of the IANA functions allows for more direct accountability, and no concentration of power.
  • Splitting of the IANA functions allows for ease of shifting of the {names,number,protocol parameters} IANA functions operator without affecting the legal structure of any of the other IANA function operators.

[1]. IAB response to the IANA FNOI, July 28, 2011. See: https://www.iab.org/wp-content/IAB-uploads/2011/07/IANA-IAB-FNOI-2011.pdf

[2]. Internet Governance Project, Comments of the Internet Governance Project on the NTIA's "Request for Comments on the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions" (Docket # 110207099-1099-01) February 25, 2011 See: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/federal-register-notices/2011/request-comments-internet-assigned-numbers-authority-iana-functions

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