September 17, 2003 3:41 PM PDT

ICANN to continue its reign over the Net

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The Bush administration said Wednesday that it has extended for three years an agreement with the organization that oversees the Internet's domain name hierarchy and address space.

A key change to the agreement establishes seven deadlines for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to meet. The move is aimed at formalizing the process used to approve new top-level domain names, improving the accuracy of "whois" contact information, and forcing ICANN to become more open and accountable to the public.

"This new agreement clearly indicates the (Department of Commerce's) recognition that ICANN is the right organization to manage the Internet's naming and numbering systems," ICANN President Paul Twomey said in a statement. "We look forward to working with the DOC to complete, within this term, the transition toward privatization that began with the first (memorandum of understanding) five years ago."

ICANN's existence has been controversial, with critics citing the organization's penchant for secrecy and its sluggish approval of new top-level domains. Last year, one of ICANN's directors ended up suing the organization for access to its business records. And its former president acknowledged last year that a "candid assessment of ICANN's performance to date would have to conclude that it has fallen short of hopes and expectations."

In 2003, the Commerce Department extended its agreement with ICANN for 12 months. The Marina del Rey, Calif.-based nonprofit group has made progress since then, but "much work remains for ICANN to evolve into an independent, stable and sustainable" organization, the government said this week in a statement.

The statement lists the deadlines and other requirements, which include a stronger emphasis on securing the root servers that maintain the master hierarchy of domain names, as well as closer collaboration with governments to formalize responsibilities for national domains such as .uk and .jp. It sets a June 30, 2004, deadline for developing a contingency plan for seamless operations in case of ICANN's "bankruptcy, corporate dissolution, a natural disaster or other financial, physical or operational event."

After a birth that was cloaked in secrecy, ICANN formally came into existence at a 1998 meeting in Cambridge, Mass., and began to take over administrative functions previously performed by the U.S. government. Since then, ICANN's two major accomplishments have been to add a handful of additional top-level domains, such as .biz and .museum, and to create a formal process to settle disputes over which party has the better claim to a contested domain name.

ICANN has refused to comment so far on VeriSign's surprise decision this week to redirect misspelled or nonexistent domain names to its own Web site--a move that has raised the hackles of network administrators. An ICANN representative said the organization may release a statement later this week.

 

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