US govt retains ICANN oversight

Decision could be taken to give ICANN total autonomy in 18 months

The US government will remain involved with the management of the internet’s domain name system after its current agreement with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) expires.

The decision comes despite international pressure on the US government to bow out and make ICANN a totally autonomous entity.

The US Department of Commerce will retain ICANN oversight for three more years, although there will be a review in 18 months of ICANN’s progress towards becoming a more stable, transparent and accountable organisation, the government agency says. A spokesman for ICANN says that at this 18-month review a decision could be taken to give ICANN total autonomy.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) that has been in place between ICANN and the commerce department since 1998 has now been modified in ways that represent a “dramatic step” towards full autonomy, ICANN says.

For example, the MOU had outlined the government’s role as “prescriptive,” but now ICANN will determine how it works and what it works on, ICANN says. Also, the requirement that ICANN submit a progress report to the department every six months has been lifted. Instead, ICANN will publish an annual progress report aimed at the entire internet community, not just the department.

“We do have a new agreement but it’s a much lighter one and it does show there’s clearly light at the end of this tunnel [towards full autonomy],” says Paul Twomey, ICANN’s president and chief executive officer.

Duties retained by the US government include helping ICANN achieve greater transparency and accountability in how it evaluates and adopts policies. In addition, the commerce department says it will continue its oversight of the security and operation of root name servers.

“I’m very comfortable with where we are at this point, yet eager to get on with the remaining steps that will allow us to function without any additional assistance,” says Vint Cerf, ICANN’s board chairman.

Commerce remains committed towards eventually giving ICANN full autonomy, it says. However, many observers believe that this full autonomy should have been granted already, because having the US involved in DNS (domain name system) management creates political friction and ultimately slows down the international development of the internet.

On the other hand, others believe that continued US government oversight of ICANN is necessary because ICANN hasn’t proved it can handle the entire task of DNS management alone and that if the US government withdraws, the internet’s security and stability could be compromised.

ICANN is a private, nonprofit organisation based in California.

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