The US government will decide by 30 September whether to renew the 1998 agreement that created ICANN or take back control of the Domain Name System (DNS), a move that would end the effort to privatise management of the Internet's address system.
While still supporting of the ICANN model, the administration has not yet decided whether to extend the agreement, modify it or let it expire, said Nancy Victory, an assistant secretary for communications and information at the US Department of Commerce, who last week testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space.
The coming months will be crucial for ICANN, said Victory, who outlined a series of steps the US government wants the organisation to take to improve its operations. Those include making reforms to ensure accountability, giving all Internet stakeholders a fair hearing and developing an effective advisory role for government, she said.
ICANN's main job is to ensure the stability and security of the DNS, and the organisation is credited with creating competition for domain names and registries that previously were solely controlled by Network Solutions under a contract with the US government.
ICANN has been criticised, most recently in a report issued last week by the US General Accounting Office, for moving too slowly to improve the security of the 13 DNS root servers.
It has also faced intense criticism over the process it used to pick seven new top-level domains in late 2000, which resulted in the rejection of numerous proposals. Its process for electing board members has been another controversial sticking point.
"Bias and favouritism are woven deeply into ICANN's form," said dissident ICANN board member Karl Auerbach at last week's US government hearing. "ICANN resists public accountability," he added.
ICANN itself has proposed a series of internal reforms intended to address some of the issues, including changes in its policy development process and the composition of its board. Victory said the reform effort shows "great promise".