U.S. plan to relinquish Internet domain control moves forward

WASHINGTON, March 10 (Reuters) - A years-long Obama administration push to cede oversight of the nonprofit in charge of the Internet’s technical management to the global community moved ahead on Thursday, as officials said the plan’s was on track to be implemented before the U.S. presidential election in November.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, submitted a final transition plan to the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration following a week of negotiations in Marrakech, Morocco, among international Internet stakeholders.

ICANN manages the database for top-level domain names such as .com and .net and their corresponding numeric addresses that allow computers to connect.

It is governed by a collection of academics, technical experts, private industry and government representatives, public interest advocates and individual users from around the world, in what it calls a “multi-stakeholder process.”

The proposal still needs final approval from the Obama administration, but ICANN officials expressed optimism that the process would complete on schedule before the current contract with the Commerce Department expires in September 2016.

“The multistakeholder community has delivered the proposal,” ICANN Chief Executive Fadi Chehadé told a news conference in Morocco. “What happens after this point will hopefully strengthen and vindicate this community.”

The U.S. currently possesses primary control of the Internet’s management, a responsibility held largely because the Internet was invented in the United States.

In a statement, the Internet Governance Coalition, a group of large companies including Disney, Facebook, Google, Verizon and Time Warner Cable applauded the proposal as “an important milestone for the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance and for the Internet as a whole.”

Some Republicans in the U.S. Congress have expressed skepticism about the transition, arguing that allowing countries with authoritarian regimes like Russia or China to have some say on Internet governance could threaten free speech online.

Supporters of the final package say it carries protections requiring that governments reach consensus before making significant changes to ICANN, and that its multistakeholder model will prevent abuses.

Opposition to the transition appears to have abated since the transition plan was announced two years ago, but some have worried a Republican president could try to prevent its implementation if it is not finalized before the November election. (Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Sandra Maler)