The US government has announced it is giving up its role overseeing the internet's technical operations, handing over those functions to "the global multi-stakeholder community".
The move "marks the final phase of the privatisation" of the management of the internet domain name system, said a statement from the US Commerce Department.
The US agency called for "global stakeholders to develop a proposal" for a transition to a new plan with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit group that took over some of the functions in 1997 under an agreement with the US government.
The decision comes with Washington under pressure following revelations about vast surveillance programmes operated by the secretive National Security Agency to collect intelligence and other data through a variety of methods.
Icann leaders said during a conference call that the move by the US was a sign that the organisation had matured and that it was in the works long before leaked documents showed massive online snooping by intelligence agents.
"Every president, every board of Icann since its inception has been working toward this day," Icann president and chief executive Fadi Chehade said.
The end of the US oversight role has no immediate impact for internet users, and Icann will continue to administer the network's key technical functions.
The change affects US government oversight of "root zone" databases underlying the internet which makes Washington a steward of that system, even though the functions are contracted out to Icann and the infrastructure company Verisign.
"The timing is right to start the transition process," said assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling, who added that he looked forward to "an appropriate transition plan".
The statement said the US hoped to "support and enhance the multi-stakeholder model" and "maintain the openness of the internet" under any new system.
Icann said its role as administrator of the internet's unique identifier system remained unchanged.
"The internet's unique identifier functions are not apparent to most internet users, but they play a critical role in maintaining a single, global, unified and interoperable internet." Icann said.
But the change leaves some questions on the future stewardship of the internet unanswered.
Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said the US "was bullied into making the change" due to pressure over the revelations of leaked NSA documents from former contractor Edward Snowden.
"The Snowden disclosures are merely a pretext," Castro said in a blog post.
"While the NSA revelations have rightly angered many people around the world, they have nothing to do with internet governance. The US Department of Commerce has not once abused its oversight of Icann to aid the intelligence community."
Castro said the change opens the door to other governments such as Russia or China modifying the internet architecture.
Without US oversight, "Icann would not be accountable to anyone, and would be motivated only by the interests of those individuals who control the organisation", the analyst added.
IBM says it doesn't give client data to US after spying revelations
IBM says it has not given its customers' data to the US government and would challenge any order to do so.
A blog post by the technology services provider on Friday was the latest backlash by a technology company against US electronic surveillance practices, after reports on Wednesday alleged the government used websites to break into computers.
"IBM has not provided client data to the NSA or any other government agency under any surveillance programme involving the bulk collection of content or metadata," Robert Weber, IBM's senior vice president of legal and regulatory affairs, wrote in the post.
"If the US government were to serve a national security order on IBM to obtain data from an enterprise client and impose a gag order that prohibits IBM from notifying that client, IBM will take appropriate steps to challenge the gag order through judicial action or other means," Weber said.