The United States government will put out the IANA functions contract for competitive bidding at the start of next month.
A notice announcing the bid was posted earlier today on the FedBizOpps website, a database of federal government contracting opportunities that contains roughly 50 percent of US government procurements projects.
The contract will run for seven years, with an initial three-year base period followed by two, two-year optional extension periodsThe pre-solicitation notice points to a 4 November publication date for the official Request for Proposals, and an expected closing date one month later. The contract will run for seven years, with an initial three-year base period followed by two, two-year optional extension periods.
But if you were thinking of applying, you may want to note that the contract comes with precisely $0 in federal funds. In other words you will be running the systems for nothing. According to ICANN, it spent $5.6 million running IANA last year, and has estimated that will increase to $6.5 million next year.
Of course were you to win the contract, it would be in the interests of Internet registries and Internet protocol organizations worldwide to fund the effective management of the contract. But that would certainly be something any business manager would need to consider.
On top of that, the IANA contract, albeit a highly technical function, comes with significant political and legal implications, demonstrated earlier this month when ICANN, under the name of IANA, assumed the running of the global timezone database after the previous owner was threatened with a lawsuit.
Then there is the fact that the holder of the IANA contract could, in theory at least, move an entire country’s Internet to different look-up serversThen there is the fact that the holder of the IANA contract could, in theory at least, move an entire country’s Internet to different look-up servers – something that has caused years of international intrigue. Some countries have very publicly railed against the fact that a US company operating under a US government contract is nominally in charge of whether their national top-level domain is available on the Internet.
Since the contract specifies that the contract holder be a company based in the United States, that issue is not likely to disappear any time soon.
The IANA contract covers a range of critical Internet functions, most notably managing the domain name system address book (the root zone file), and has been awarded to ICANN since February 2000.
Earlier this year, ICANN officially requested that the US government use the end of the current contract (30 September) to adjust the contract terms to effectively make it a cooperative agreement between it and the government. That request was rejected by the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) which said only Congress had the power to change the make-up of the contract.
First it announced through a formal Notice of Inquiry in February that it was going to review the IANA contract, providing a series of questions that it asked people to respond to. Then, it produced a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) inside a “Further Notice of Inquiry” (FNOI) which it published in June, and again asked for public feedback. In order to have time to consider all the comments, the NTIA provided a temporary extension to ICANN’s contract until 31 March 2012.
The FNOI received no less than 46 responses (which we have summarized and broken out both by topic and by sender).
Despite all these steps, and a number of clear public statements by Strickling, attendees to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Nairobi last month were still surprised when the NTIA made clear its intent was to launch an open bidding process for the contract.
Breakdown of trust
While it refuses to acknowledge the fact, ICANN brought the open bidding of an IANA contract that is crucial to its authority on itself.
When the US government agreed to much greater autonomy for the organization in September 2009, moving from a “Joint Project Agreement” to an “Affirmation of Commitments”, the key element of the new agreement was an independent review into ICANN’s accountability and transparency. On the review team was no less than NTIA Secretary Strickling.
Unfortunately, ICANN demonstrated the very behavior that had sparked calls for the review in the first placeUnfortunately, ICANN demonstrated the very behavior that had sparked calls for the review in the first place, interfering with the review at both the staff and Board level, leading to several public and private arguments between the review team and ICANN’s CEO and Chairman. The final report included an entire appendix outlining ICANN’s failure of objectivity and an “attitude of inordinate defensiveness and distrust”.
That disaster was swiftly followed by a collapse in relations between the ICANN Board and the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) over both the dot-xxx top-level domain and the rules for new Internet extensions.
A series of increasingly difficult public meetings, which at times verged on the surreal, led to the ICANN Board approving the dot-xxx extension despite a very strongly worded statement against it by governments, and the “approval” of the Applicant Guidebook after begrudging acceptance of a large number of suggested changes put forward by the GAC.
It was then, at a time when relations between the US government and ICANN had never been lower, that both the Chairman and CEO used public speeches to request that the US government to hand over to it the one contract that gives the NTIA some measure of influence over the organization. To nobody’s surprise but ICANN, the NTIA said no.
The strong likelihood is that ICANN will retain the IANA contract given its experienceThe strong likelihood is that ICANN will retain the IANA contract given its experience with running the technical functions, the cost of running the contract, and the political implications in changing ownership.
However the NTIA will be hoping that by putting the contract out to an open bid that it will shake ICANN’s almost-delusional belief that it has a god-given right to the contract.
One thing that the public comment period the NTIA held on the contract made clear was that the Internet community was not that impressed with the way ICANN actually ran the IANA contract. It was lacking in customer service, provided poor explanations, was lacking in clear and verifiable policies, and it had not improved its services in years, nor come good on promises for improvements.
It is difficult to see another organization step in and run the IANA contract, and many will not favor a shift due to the uncertainty it may cause. But in the bigger scheme of things, it may be good for both ICANN and the Internet if the organization was given a serious run for its money during the open bidding, and so forced to justify its continued ownership of a crucial Internet function.