Icann's failings

"The Internet is a global resource of incalculable value, and nothing is of greater importance to its future than the way in...

"The Internet is a global resource of incalculable value, and nothing is of greater importance to its future than the way in which Icann performs its role as manager of the domain name system." These are not the words of Computer Weekly, or of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) itself, but of Icann Watch, an organisation that exists to monitor the activities of our guardian of Internet naming. Sadly, Icann's performance continues to have more in common with amateur dramatics than Broadway.

Since it was established as a corporation under US law in 1998, Icann has come under regular criticism for its ineffectiveness, its lack of accountability, and its failure to reflect the views of the global Internet community. This week's story of Liberty Broadband, a UK-based ISP whose customers were recently left without Web and e-mail access for four days, will do little to deflect such criticisms.

Liberty Broadband uses a US-based company for registering its customers' URLs and e-mail addresses. When a billing problem led the registration company to disable these customers' e-mail accounts and domain names, Liberty sent a flurry of faxes and phone calls to the registration company, but to no avail. Liberty's logical next step was to apply to Icann for redress. But the domain name body's only response was to refer the ISP straight back to the registration company again.

Icann's toothless response to this single situation is symptomatic of its wider failings. If the supposed guardian of domain names packs so little regulatory clout, then clearly it is time to reappraise the way it structures itself.

One of the Internet's great strengths is its lack of respect for national boundaries; and yet surely some devolvement of regulatory power to regional bodies would go part of the way to resolving Icann's lack of accountability?

Sadly, the signs are that Icann will, at its latest round of meetings in Shanghai next week, further tighten its control of the Internet. Judging by the experience of the customers of Liberty Broadband, this is something we should all fear.

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