Icann needs reforms, critics tell US govt

Critics of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) told a US Senate subcommittee that the organisation...

Critics of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers have told a US Senate subcommittee that the organisation that manages the internet domain name system needs to improve its efforts to include regular internet users in its decisions.

One witness at the hearing questioned Icann's decision in late 2002 to get rid of its nine board members, and another questioned whether the private organisation was open enough in its business dealings.

The US Department of Commerce has not yet decided whether to renew its memorandum of understanding that gives Icann the power to manage the DNS in the US, said Nancy Victory, assistant secretary for communications and information for the department.

The department must make the decision by September, but it is waiting for a report from Icann due next week.

Senator Conrad Burns told the Department of Commerce to report back to the subcommittee by the end of August with recommendations about the future of Icann.

Burns, the chairman of the subcommittee, said the lack of accountability of Icann to the US government raises cybersecurity concerns, and he is considering legislation aimed at making Icann more accountable.

"While we have made great strides in combating terrorism, our nation is still very vulnerable to the threat of a massive cyber attack," Burns said.

Icann president and chief executive officer Paul Twomey said the organisation is making significant changes to respond to its critics.

"It is hard to overstate the comprehensiveness of the Icann reforms that have taken place over the last year," Twomey said.

"Icann 2.0 is still a work in progress, but in completing this reform and reorganisation, the Icann community has demonstrated that it builds consensus on important and controversial issues."

Twomey noted that Icann has, in the past year,  worked on including creating an ombudsman programme where people can appeal against Icann decisions, establishing an advisory committee and regional groups where the public can participate, and working on several consumer issues, including a redemption grace period service, where owners of lapsed domain names can pick them back up.

But Paul Stahura, chief executive officer of domain name registrar eNom, questioned Icann's handling of the Wait List Service.

The service allows people who want a domain name already in use to be put on a list to be next in line if the exisitng owner lets the domain name expire.

The Wait List Service was proposed by VeriSign, which operates the .com and .net top-level domains, but critics have said it will reduce competition among domain registrars.

In August 2002, Icann approved a one-year test of a Wait List Service, but two lawsuits have been filed this month to stop the service.

"Icann should not be in the business of determining offerings in the marketplace," Twomey said. "We're not in the role of stopping that [proposal] because other people have a product in the marketplace."

Icann's decision to cut out the members of its board also drew criticism.

Alan Davidson, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), said the result is that community and non-commercial interests are poorly represented at Icann.

The group's ombudsman has yet to be appointed, and regional advisory groups do not have the same power as at-large members of the Icann board.

Icann will fail unless it makes "significant progress in meeting its public-interest obligations", he said, adding that Icann offered a better model for managing DNS than one controlled by the US government.

Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service

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