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The US Commerce Department National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has cancelled its request for proposal for the management of the internet root zone file, a core piece of infrastructure for the global domain name system (DNS) that helps users to navigate the net.

In a 10 March notice published on its website, NTIA announced the agency had “received no proposals that met the requirements requested by the global community.” NTIA intended to “reissue the RFP at a future date to be determined (TBD) so that the requirements of the global Internet community can be served.”

This unexpected move is a setback to expectations by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to be re-named as contractor for the so-called IANA function that also includes a list of tasks necessary for the internet, for example IP address allocation to the Regional Internet Registries.

NTIA’s rather blunt explanation of shortcomings of the proposals received ignites speculation about possible intentions of the US body, but also some quick criticism about the unilateral power over internet critical infrastructure.

Some US observers wondered if the upcoming US presidential elections were a factor influencing the decision. Other considerations are related to the upcoming International Telecommunication Union treaty conference on the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR) where some countries are expected to push for a firmer multilateral grip on critical internet infrastructure – and DNS oversight.

NTIA in its notice yesterday listed several new requirements for the next IANA contractor, “including the need for structural separation of policymaking from implementation, a robust companywide conflict of interest policy, provisions reflecting heightened respect for local country laws, and a series of consultation and reporting requirements to increase transparency and accountability to the international community.”

Has ICANN fallen short of these? The most far-reaching warnings are that NTIA might have decided not to award the contract to ICANN, and needs time to prepare another candidate. ICANN, according to a report by journalist and domain industry consultant Kieran McCarthy, was taken by surprise as were many participants of the 43rd ICANN meeting that officially starts today in Costa Rica, in replies to Intellectual Property Watch.

In one of the first sessions of this meeting, governments sternly warned ICANN about a lack of clarity and more shortcomings in the current process to open the internet to new generic top-level domains (gTLDs, like .com). NTIA included in its IANA contract proposals on a much-debated obligation of ICANN to “document the global public interest” of new TLDs before IANA sends it to the root zone, and some warned this could result in a government veto against new TLDs.

NTIA’s notice on cancellation is here.

NTIA’s notice on preliminary extensions of the IANA contract is here.

A DomainIncite story on the issue and potential problem with the global public interest clause in the new IANA contract is here.