ICANN controversy extends to White House

With the testing period for a new internet domain registration extended on Friday until September 10, the White House has been drawn into the ongoing battle of words between US lawmakers and those charged with overseeing the process of privatising the registration process.

Representative Tom Bliley, a Virginia Democrat and chairman of the House Commerce Committee, on Wednesday wrote to White House counsel Charles Ruff, seeking to "gain a better understanding" of whether a senior White House official helped the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) raise funds, and if he did whether those fund-raising activities were legal.

Bliley requested records "relating to each and every instance of activity" between ICANN and Tom Kalil, the White House National Economic council senior director, and any other White House official. In a July 2 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Oversight an Investigations, ICANN interim president and chief executive officer Mike Roberts testified that ICANN is $US800,000 in debt.

"Indeed, records produced to the committee by ICANN show that the body's financial situation may threaten its existence," Bliley wrote to Ruff. The letter further said that Bliley wants details about any fund-raising Kalil, or any other White House employee, might have done on ICANN's behalf and whether those actions followed federal law governing fund-raising by members of the Executive branch.

The White House has not yet issued a statement regarding Bliley's letter, according to a spokesman on Friday.

ICANN is the administrative body charged with overseeing the a privatised system of domain-name registration and with ensuring competition and uniform standards. The registration process has been conducted by Network Solutions (NSI), which has had the sole government contract, creating what is widely recognised as a monopoly. The move from government control to privatisation of the registration process is intended, in part, to make the system competitive and also to pull in broader global interests than have been previously represented.

NSI is currently under investigation for possible anticompetitive behaviour by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the European Commission.

As such, ICANN has been hosting meetings at various spots around the world. Both ICANN and NSI have come under fire recently from lawmakers who contend that both have made the move to privatisation more contentious than it has to be.

In recent weeks, the public dispute involving NSI, ICANN, various US lawmakers and government agencies has appeared to grow more heated. Bliley last week wrote ICANN interim chairwoman Esther Dyson asking for documents regarding what he termed "highly inappropriate" communications between ICANN top outside legal counsel Joe Sims and a DoJ official. Dyson responded that ICANN has a constitutionally-protected right to petition the US government and that Sim's job involves communicating with government officials and agencies.

Weighing in from the US Senate, two senators wrote last week to Dyson, NSI chief James Rutt and Commerce Secretary William Daley, chastising ICANN and NSI for their public dispute and urging a resolution of the grievances between the two.

Meanwhile, the test-bed phase to develop the shared registration system for domain names was set to expire on Friday, but was extended by the Commerce Department so that testing for performance and scalability can continue until September 10, a department spokeswoman said. More than 50 companies globally have been accredited as test registrars by ICANN to participate in the trial phase. The test period started in April and has been extended three times.

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More about Department of JusticeDOJEuropean CommissionICANNInternet Corporation for Assigned Names and NumbersUS Department of Justice

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