The transfer of power from the government to the private sector over administration of the Internet could begin within a few weeks, presidential Internet policy adviser Ira Magaziner said today.
Though Magaziner declined to pinpoint a date, he reaffirmed that the administration is in the final stages of handing over the reins of power to a new, private nonprofit board charged with the Herculean responsibility of running the domain name system, the underpinnings of the Internet.
"We're so notoriously late on things that I hate to make a prediction on the date," he said. However, "I think everyone wants to move quickly."
Magaziner has been spearheading the cumbersome and sometimes byzantine process of withdrawing U.S. government control over the Internet so it can flourish as an international, market-driven medium.
But while the transfer of power may begin as soon as a few weeks from now, it could take months or years to complete the transfer, Magaziner said. And that's if everything goes according to plan.
Last week, the House Commerce Committee opened an investigation into the drive to privatize the domain name system. Though Magaziner has tried to seek consensus among the widely diverging interests that form the Internet community, even he acknowledges that total agreement is impossible.
For now, the administration is staking its ground on one particular proposal, submitted by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), an agency that has managed the system under the leadership of Jon Postel, who died Friday.
Yesterday, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration sent a letter giving an official nod to the plan to form the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is often referred to as the new IANA.
Magaziner said the government had been prepared to send the letter Monday but delayed the process for a day because of Postel's death.
"Certainly Jon was the leader, but he had a core of people that have been with him for years," Magaziner said. "Jon's going to be missed and there will never be another Jon, and to a lot of people he was the IANA--symbolically, morally. But I think life moves on when people pass away. Fortunately, he built an infrastructure around him."
Now it will be up to those left at the IANA, which is run out of the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California, to revamp the plan and address the issues raised in the Commerce Department letter.
Specifically, the letter calls for the new corporation to "ensure financial accountability to the members of the Internet community who will be funding the organization."
It also said the new organization should make its administration more transparent by publicly publishing minutes of meetings, for example.
Many have said that the process of forming the ICANN has been closed to all except key power players and fear that it will be able to operate in a shroud of secrecy, without government oversight.
The letter also states that the board also should avoid "the appearance of conflicts of interest."
The points outlined in the letter all center around making the board more open and accountable, much in the same way that the governing agencies that now oversee the Net already are.
"Because this organization is going to play a quasi-public function, it needs to have a level of transparency and fiscal accountability that's commensurate with that. That's what we're saying needs to happen," Magaziner said.
He added that he expects to get revisions back in a week or two. Then, he said, "We'll probably get some public reaction to it."
Though some players have been mollified by the process, others--especially individual players--still feel left out and worry that the new board named to first establish the ICANN does not have enough experts on it who can take this on as a full time project.
Magaziner said, however, that with the changes, he estimates that there is about "80 percent agreement" over the plan.
"You had a pretty diverse groups supporting the proposal and the areas of disagreement were important but relatively small," he said. "This is the Internet, so there will always be individuals who don't like anything--but I think it will probably be a very small group at this point."