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ICANN comes under global scrutiny




The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers [ICANN] won’t be solely under the guidance of the United States following a new agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce [U.S. DoC]. ICANN is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable. It develops policy on the Internet’s unique identifiers, web addresses, via the DNS [domain name system].

The European Union has been unhappy with the fact that only the United States has had any formal oversight of the organization that regulates the internet. Under the new agreement, every three years ICANN will continue to be reviewed by the DOC and its own advisory committees, but independent experts from around the world will now have a say. Results will be submitted to “the world” for public comment, according to ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom.

The Affirmation of Commitments announced by ICANN on September 30 coincided with the expiration of previous Memorandums of Understanding between ICANN and the DOC. The new guidelines require ICANN to base their policies upon facts, to open debate across communities, to institute accountable budgeting practices, and to clarify the basis for its decisions. An annual report will present sources of information and the rationale behind decisions the organization makes.

One of the items that will be up for closer scrutiny is ICANN’s funding and expenditures. Its proposed budget for fiscal year 2010 shows increases in both income and expenses. The non-profit organization is projecting $63.6 million in revenue, $54.4 million in operating expenses, and $4.9 million in contributions to reserves  [commonly referred to as “equity” or “retained earnings” in corporate settings]. Expenses earmarked for travel and meetings are $12.06 million, or 22 percent of all operating expenses, with another $1.5 million set aside for unidentified “contingencies.” The amount allotted for travel could be considered excessive, causing Computerworld’s Patrick Thibodeau to dub ICANN a “Club Med for Geeks.”

Brad White, ICANN’s director of media affairs claims that expenditures for international travel made by one hundred or so employees and board members are reasonable because, “We deliberately go to a different continent every meeting, because the Internet is global.” Since ICANN’s focus is the web – one might ask why they haven’t implemented web conferencing in lieu of spending millions on globe trekking employees and advisors.

Steve DelBianco, executive director of e-commerce trade group NetChoice, stated “These reviews should help ICANN stay focused on security, choice and consumer trust.” Developing trust regarding not only its control of the critical Internet framework, but trust in the organization’s ability to prudently manage its own finances should be a top priority.

TLD Applicant Guidebook Update came out in January of this year with input from individuals, organizations, and governments involved in business, intellectual property, brand naming, and the domain name industry. Generic TLDs such as .edu, .com .net, .org and .gov. have been around since 1994. Prior to the updated guidelines, were only 21 generic top-level domain (gTLD) names.

DelBianco he says that the planned reviews will result in “an added emphasis on interests of global Internet users – especially those who can’t yet use their native language in domain names or e-mail addresses.”

ICANN voted to relax the strict rules on Top Level Domain (TLD) naming conventions. It opened up domain names to scripts other than Roman, such as Arabic or Chinese. It also would allow web addresses to reflect company brand names, and let individuals use their own names. Not everyone is happy with such potential additions.

The Affirmation of Commitments, however, states “Nothing in this document is an expression of support by DOC of any specific plan or proposal for the implementation of new generic top level domain names.”  So the debate continues.

ICANN’s separate agreement with the US to run the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority [IANA] which oversees the Internet’s addressing system does not expire until 2011. IANA, dating back to the 1970’s, is responsible for global coordination of the Internet Protocol addressing systems, as well as the Autonomous System Numbers used for routing Internet traffic. The branching of responsibility for managing the internet is as complex as the web itself. Specifically, IANA allocates and maintains unique codes and numbering systems that are used in the technical standards – protocols – that drive the internet. Managing the DNS root zone falls to IANA, which assigns the operators of top-level domains.

As the Internet continues to grow, it becomes a more and more dominant force in society and with governments world wide. Let’s hope ICANN is up to performing its tasks with logic and restraint.

Original Author: Darleen Hartley

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