Internet governance experts have argued for and against the US government handing over the technical co-ordination and management of the internet's domain name system (DNS) to the private, non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) this year.

Those in favour of completing this transition, which began in 1998, said the political price of having the US involved in DNS management has become too high and holds back the international development of the internet.

Meanwhile, others warned that ICANN isn't ready to take on this task alone and that a premature withdrawal by the US government could compromise the internet's security and stability.

Expiring government deal

The US Department of Commerce called Wednesday's public meeting as part of its consultation process on the upcoming expiration of its agreement with ICANN to co-manage the DNS. That deal ends in September. In the weeks preceding the meeting, which was webcast, about 700 written comments were sent to the Commerce Department.

At issue is whether the 1998 agreement should be extended to keep the joint management in place or whether it's time for the Department of Commerce to bow out.

John Kneuer, acting administrator of the Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), said the government remains committed to the transition, but not at any price.

"We have an incentive and a long-standing policy to complete this transition," he said. "But we will take no actions that will compromise the stability and security of the internet."

No political control

Internet Society president and CEO Lynn St Amour argued on behalf of handing over the DNS reins to ICANN sooner rather than later, saying that ICANN is ready and it's time to quiet the political static caused by the government's participation.

"We continue to be concerned about attempts to politicise the internet and its management," said St Amour, whose non-profit organisation is involved in internet-related standards, education and policy. "As long as the US government has a role in ICANN's governance and management, organisations and other governments have an incentive to try to leverage political channels to their favour."

Others, like Tim Ruiz, vice president of corporate development and policy at registrar, said that the US needs to remain involved and the agreement extended. "It's premature to consider ending the agreement so we're requesting some extension be made," he said, citing concerns about accountability mechanisms and governance issues.

Independent of what happens, there are two main challenges that need to be addressed, said Marcus Sachs, from independent non-profit research organisation SRI International.

One is the security of the DNS, he said. "A lot of the problems we have today are largely based on the fact that the DNS itself, mechanically, doesn't have built-in security," he said. Solving this is critical for increasing consumer confidence and the level of e-commerce activity, he said. The other problem is ensuring the DNS can scale up as the internet grows in decades to come, Sachs said.