US tells IANA to heed criticisms

Listen to the critics - including country-code registries like New Zealand's - the US Department of Commerce has ordered the Internet Assigned Names Authority as IANA takes another look at its plan for a new body to oversee the allocation of Internet domains and names. A representative of a US group which submitted proposals for the plan says 'the first thing is we've got to get off our American high horse.'

The US Department of Commerce (DOC) has asked the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA) to incorporate suggestions from critics into its plan for a new body to oversee the allocation of Internet domains and names.

IANA's proposal for a non-profit company, called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), to take over responsibility for assigning domain names and allocating IP (Internet protocol) addresses is "a significant step towards privatising management of the domain name system," the DOC said in a letter sent today to Herb Schorr, executive director at the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute, which houses IANA.

However, while most of the public comments the DOC received on the plan were supportive, other comments "reflect significant concerns about the substantive and operational aspects of ICANN," wrote Becky Burr, associate administrator for International Affairs at the National Telecommunications Information Administration, which is part of the DOC.

The letter "should not be construed as either approval or disapproval of the bylaws as presented, or of the proposed composition of the interim board of directors" of ICANN, Burr wrote in a footnote.

Burr advises Schorr to review and consider the comments posted at http://www.ntia.doc.gov and to consult with groups that criticized the IANA plan and others "to try to broaden the consensus.

"The submissions of the Boston Working Group and the Open Root Server Confederation (ORSC), among others, articulate specific concerns, many of which we share," Burr wrote.

The Boston Group and the ORSC had submitted their own proposals after drafters complained of being shut out of the IANA process.

Groups from outside the U.S. also complained that there was not enough worldwide representation on the list of interim board members IANA proposed for ICANN.

Those complaints also prompted the US House Commerce Committee chairman to announce last week that it was looking into the matter.

Burr's letter refers to concerns that there is not adequate accountability of the ICANN board, either representationally or financially; the decision-making processes are not transparent enough; there is the potential for conflict of interest; and there is uncertainty as to ICANN's proposed role with respect to country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs).

Specifically Burr said:

-- Under the IANA proposal, the ICANN board of directors is encouraged, but not required to establish an open membership structure. But Burr said the board should have greater accountability to the Internet community.

-- The IANA proposal does not describe a mechanism to ensure financial accountability to members of the Internet community who will be funding the organisation. "The absence of transparency and controls in the budget process could impose unnecessary burdens on Internet users and endanger the long term viability of ICANN and thus the stability of the Internet."

-- In addition to providing notice of and seeking public comment on any policies that substantially affect the operation of the Internet or third parties, the ICANN board should also regularly explain decisions that do not reach the level of "substantially affecting the interests of the Internet" or third parties. The new company should be "governed on the basis of a sound and transparent decision-making process, which protects against capture by a self-interested faction."

-- Commenters on the IANA proposal urged open processes to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest with respect to the supporting organisations, groups that will advise and support the new company. "For example, some commenters suggested that a system that permits officers and employees of the supporting organisations to serve on the ICANN board of directors threatens the independence of the board and should, accordingly, be prohibited."

-- The new organisation should reflect the geographic and functional diversity of the Internet community. Commenters said they were concerned about the proposed interim board and called for establishing mechanisms to ensure equitable representation of the Internet community. "We are interested in hearing how ICANN intends to address these concerns."

-- The DOC assumes that the national governments will continue to have authority to manage and establish policy for their own ccTLDs, such as .fr for France. However, the IANA proposal doesn't address this but should.

The attorney who helped IANA draft its proposal could not be reached for comment. Meanwhile, two drafters of the Boston Group and ORSC proposals said they were encouraged by the DOC's letter.

"We also realise, however, that the signs on the wall were very, very clear and if the government hadn't responded to the fact that almost all the ICANN endorsements were conditional endorsements" people would have criticised the government, said Einar Stefferud, an Internet veteran and retired consultant who founded the ORSC group.

A drafter of the Boston Group proposal said he was optimistic IANA would heed the DOC's message.

"We've all got a lot to lose if (IANA) is hardnosed. They've got a lot to gain if they aren't," said Karl Auerbach, an Internet technologist and member of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

Ira Magaziner, US President Bill Clinton's senior policy adviser, said yesterday that he was hoping to get IANA to refine its proposal this week, Auerbach said, adding that he thinks that a month is a more realistic time frame.

A top priority for IANA and others will be to "calm down the international people because I think that's part of the biggest problems we have," Auerbach said.

"I'd like an explicit statement somewhere saying we in the US are not trying to dictate to the rest of the world, that we recognise that the rest of the world has interests that are just as legitimate as ours," Auerbach said. "The first thing is we've got to get off our American high horse."

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