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Internet

Domain group answers critics

The budding nonprofit corporation that is expected to oversee the Net address system responds to concerns about its evolving plan.

    A budding nonprofit corporation that is expected to oversee the Net address system when the government passes the baton today responded to concerns about its evolving plan.

    The interim board members for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, told the Commerce Department today that they are ready to negotiate a final agreement to let ICANN start establishing a new organization for governing the Net's infrastructure, along with its most popular domains, such as ".com."

    The transition is at the center of a heated international debate. The new system would replace the current oversight of the U.S. government-funded Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which was headed by the late Jon Postel, and Network Solutions, which now has the singular government contract to run the domain-name registry business.

    The changeover is expected to open up competition in the registry market, and is intended to allow international input regarding the legal and technical issues that have arisen with the explosion of online commerce and Net usage worldwide.

    The Commerce Department has selected ICANN as the front-runner to oversee the transition, but it has expressed serious concerns about the ICANN's proposed bylaws, which were drafted by IANA and Network Solutions. It remains unclear how the final nine interim board members--who are supposed to be neutral parties--were selected. IANA, Network Solutions, and the Internet Society all threw names into the pool of candidates, without objection from Commerce.

    ICANN then voted to elect its board in a private meeting, rankling many in the domain name community, which has demanded that the body tapped to oversee the transition of the Net from a government-run entity into a private international corporation meet openly.

    The issues addressed today aim to make ICANN's activities completely public.

    For example, the minutes of each and every ICANN board meeting will be posted online within 21 days, and the board will create a conflicts of interest policy applicable to it and the four delegations that will make up its membership.

    ICANN told the government that, once it gets the green light, the transition will last one year. During that time, the interim board plans to create a governance structure based on members who represent a wide range of stakeholders in the domain name system.

    Essentially, there will be four membership delegations--three of which will represent specific areas of expertise, such as Internet protocols. One delegation will be elected at large. The election system is one wrinkle the board will try to iron out after it receives comments at a public meeting.

    "We are going to adopt an election mechanism," said Michael M. Roberts, interim president and chief executive of ICANN, adding that the board is "waiting for people to give us informed testimony," before it makes final decisions.

    "Each community will have its own membership structure and elect counselors from their own community," he added. "[We want a system] that is fair to the community at large."

    He said there will be six criteria for selecting member groups, including how the group became organized and whether it has open membership.

    Roberts also emphasized that ICANN will not give power to one company, thus creating a monopolistic situation similar to that of Network Solutions.

    Esther Dyson, Net luminary and interim chairwoman of the board, also emphasized next week's meeting, and said the member-based structure will create a checks and balances system.

    "The members have to be representative, and are the people we will be accountable to," she said.

    In addition, ICANN "will respect each nation's sovereign control over its individual top-level domain," the board said today.

    Dyson said she looked forward to a lively discussion.

    "The best way to hone ideas is to argue about them," she said. "One way or another--it's not clear [how]--we will be accountable and not just to ourselves."

    Many remaining issues have yet to be hammered out, but Dyson is hoping community involvement ultimately will resolve them.

    "This board is supposed to be impartial, and the supporting organizations will be people with deep knowledge," Dyson said. "The supporting organizations will represent a consensus and areas of expertise."