Controversy over control of ICANN won't likely die soon

For the London Free Press - November 2, 2009 Read this on Canoe

INTERNET: ICANN regulates the basic functions of the Internet, most notably, the assignment of domain names

ICANN, the body that controls the Internet, is now subject to more worldwide control and less control by Washington.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is the U.S.-based non-profit organization responsible for the global co-ordination of the Internet's addressing system.

ICANN regulates the basic functions of the Internet, most notably, the assignment of domain names. Its principles include: Internet stability, competition, private "bottom-up" co-ordination, and representation.

ICANN was originally created and run by the U.S. government. Not surprisingly, that control was heavily criticized as the Internet became a global phenomenon.

Many countries criticized the U.S.-based agency as having too much influence over the Internet, a system used by hundreds of millions around the globe.

Additional international issues arose, such as the language of domain names and problems associated with non-English characters and multilingualism.

The U.S. maintained its control, however, until this year.

Under pressure from Europea regulators and other international critics, Washington announced an agreement between the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and ICANN Sept. 30.

The deal completes the transition process by which ICANN will become a multi-stakeholder, private sector-led corporation.

"This framework puts the public interest front and centre, and it establishes processes for stakeholders around the world to review ICANN's performance," NTIA administrator Lawrence E. Strickling said.

The agreement has ensured a broader role for international governments in ICANN's operation through establishment of advisory panels. These panels, made up of government and private-sector representatives from various places around the world, will review ICANN decisions to ensure they're made openly and reflect the public interest. The aim is to ensure that ICANN is successful, accountable, and transparent.

Each advisory panel will consist of representatives chosen by ICANN leaders and its advisory committee of government officials. The U.S. Commerce Department has only one guaranteed seat on the panels, with the majority of members coming from international governments. ICANN will remain U.S.-based, with head office in Marina del Ray, Calif., but offices will continue to be instituted globally.

Washington, however, has not relinquished all control. Panel recommendations will not be binding on ICANN. And the U.S. Commerce Department will retain control over most domain name administration issues. So the issue of control over ICANN is unlikely to die soon.

Hopefully, the advisory panels will be functional and their advice will be followed. That would go a long way to boosting international comfort with ICANN, and U.S. comfort with looser control over ICANN.