U.S. officials on Friday announced plans to relinquish its oversight role over the group that manages the Web's critical infrastructure, said Lawrence Strickling, the head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration at the Commerce Department.
The transition will come in 2015, when Commerce contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers expires next year. But the announcement comes with a major caveat: As part of the transition, an independent, international oversight authority must be established so as to earn the trust of the world, Strickling said.
“We will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an intergovernmental solution,” Strickling said.
ICANN, the California-based nonprofit that coordinates the Web's various systems of identifiers, has been pushing for increased global participation in the administration of the Internet, particularly since Edward Snowden's leak of thousands of classified NSA documents last summer revealed the U.S. had been snooping on foreign nationals and governments.
"I welcome the beginning of this transition process that you have outlined," said Fadi Chehade, president of ICANN. "The global community will be included in full."
“We thank the U.S. government for its stewardship, for its guidance over the years," Chehade said, "and we thank them today for trusting the global community to replace their stewardship with the appropriate accountability mechanisms."
But not everyone welcomed the news, particularly business leaders and others who were glad to accept tight U.S. control on the Internet's administration as it ensured the Web operated smoothly and openly.
The U.S. has vehemently opposed ceding authority to the International Telecommunication Union, run by the U.N., over fears that control of the Web could fall into the hands of nations with problematic relationships with the open flow of information, such as Russia or China.
Daniel Castro, a senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, warned that without U.S. oversight, the Web may not hold together as a single entity.
"The world could be faced with a splintered Internet that would stifle innovation, commerce, and the free flow and diversity of ideas that are bedrock tenets of world’s biggest economic engine," Castro wrote in an op-ed Friday.
"It is too important to get wrong," he said. "And if the Obama Administration gives away its oversight of the Internet, it will be gone forever."