August 16, 2006 12:30 PM PDT

Feds renew contract with Net oversight body

The U.S. government this week renewed its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, effectively extending its grip on the administrative body that coordinates Net addressing until up to 2011.

The new contract (click for PDF) between the Marina Del Ray, Calif.-based nonprofit and the U.S. Department of Commerce covers technical functions related to the Internet domain name system (DNS) and is scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 1, one day after the existing contract expires. Technically, the agreement lasts for one year, and the government has the option of renewing it each year for up to four additional years.

"In executing this contract the Department of Commerce has confirmed that ICANN is uniquely positioned to perform this function," Paul Twomey, the organization's CEO, said in a statement.

The move appears to be consistent with a set of Internet governance principles issued last summer by the Commerce Department that ignited a worldwide debate. In addition to asserting its plans to retain control over the Internet's "root," the master file that lists what top-level domains are authorized, the Bush administration said it planned to maintain its supervision over ICANN.

For years, the U.S. government has been saying it ultimately intends to unleash ICANN from its control. It has operated the Net addressing system under an agreement with U.S. authorities since 1998. At a recent public hearing, John Kneuer, the department's acting assistant secretary for communications and information, said the agency remained "committed" to that transition but gave no indication of when that may happen.

The contract awarded this week covers only technical tasks performed by ICANN, such as allocating DNS numbers and performing certain responsibilities related to managing the Internet root zone. Also set to expire on Sept. 30, but not yet addressed formally by the Commerce Department, is a separate agreement known as a "memorandum of understanding," which has been repeatedly amended and renewed.

The MoU, designed to pave the way for an eventual shift away from U.S. oversight, outlines more specific obligations for ICANN, such as procedures for establishing new top-level domain names, for keeping tabs on "Whois" registry information, and for fostering greater transparency in the organization's dealings. A Commerce Department spokesman told CNET News.com on Wednesday that he had "no idea" how the agency would proceed with that agreement.

Over the years, controversy has plagued ICANN, which grew out of a clandestine meeting in Cambridge, Mass. Critics in the past have accused it of lacking transparency in its operations and moving sluggishly to approve new top-level domain names. More recently, Capitol Hill politicians and advocacy groups have criticized the organization for agreeing to what amounts to a perpetual contract with VeriSign to run the .com registry, which some say would result in unnecessary price hikes and a veritable monopoly.

Some organizations, such as domain name registrar GoDaddy.com and the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology, charged at the recent hearing that the administrative body hasn't yet proven it's ready to function on its own.

Despite that "rough start," ICANN has "come a long way over the past couple of years," said Will Rodger, public policy director for the Computer & Communications Industry Association, whose members include Google, Microsoft, Verizon Communications and Yahoo.

U.S. authorities should let the contract lapse after two years, Rodger suggested, adding that "ICANN should have earned its independence by then."

Meanwhile, suspicion of the United States' cozy relationship with ICANN appears to persist. During a public comment period, a large number of people sent a two-paragraph form letter urging the United States to "work cooperatively with all stakeholders to complete the transition to a domain name system independent of U.S. governmental control."

Representing about a dozen countries--including Australia, Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, Morocco, Nigeria, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States--they wrote, "No single government should have a pre-eminent role in Internet governance."

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2 comments

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Hm.. why so quiet?
Eesh.. If this remotely alluded to Microsoft, Apple or net neutrality there'd be thirty Fanboy comments about why their unprefered technology sucks rocks.

An article on the very organization responsible for maintaining American control of the internet and not a single Fanboy in sight; not even crickets chirping in the distance.

You think we spend too much time debating what boot logo you look at rather than discussing relevant topics?

As for the article; sure the Internet was born out of American research but its all grown up now and should be allowed to move out of its parents home. ICANN needs to be moved to or hand over responsibility to an international standards body to administrate addressing of the international network.

But then, does a domain root actually mean anything these days?

.com is used by organizations and individuals because its easily recognized as a domain

.org is used by companies to save the cost of a higher .com domain root

.net is all but forgotten thought it still does address some network domains

.us may as well be .com since most non-business people recognize and register a .com when they really should use a standard country domain root (being an individual not commercial entity).

But what do I know, this is all speculation until it effects me directly.
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
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Are we stupid?
The internet was developed by and at the expense of the U.S. government; that is, at the expense of the U.S. taxpayers. It would be *stupid* for the U.S. to release control of the internet completely when it was our money that developed it. Nobody has been paying royalties to the U.S. government for the work done at DARPA, and I don't necessarily believe they should. But I also believe the U.S. should retain some control over what it developed. For too long the U.S. has been the benefactor of the rest of the world with little or no respect or gratitude for what we have done. Yes, the internet benefits the entire world, so where is the thanks the U.S. deserves for what it presently has delivered? I don't see it.
Posted by bwithnell (12 comments )
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