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Ralph Nader renews criticism of ICANN

Consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader is concerned that the organization that manages the Internet's addressing system is influenced by corporate interests.

Worried that corporate interests are wielding too much influence over the organization that manages the Internet's addressing system, consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader has launched a renewed attack on the nonprofit group.

Nader, who has been critical in the past of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), called for an international watchdog to prevent corporate interests from taking control of ICANN and to keep it from overextending its authority.

Nader made his comments over the weekend at a conference titled "Governing the Commons: The Future of Global Internet Administration." The Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility organized the event.

ICANN was established last year in an effort to phase out the United States' governance of the domain name system. Its goal is to end a monopoly held by Network Solutions (NSI), which held the government contract for registering Net names ending in ".com," ".net," and ".org."

Nader, speaking to an audience made up predominantly of ICANN's critics, said the organization's authority should be based upon a multilateral government charter that would define and limit ICANN's authority.

Nader introduced a 13-point proposal that outlines ways that ICANN's power should be controlled. The proposal was posted on Nader's Consumer Project on Technology Web site, and he is seeking public comment.

The proposal is the latest salvo of criticism thrust at ICANN by Nader, who took the organization to task earlier this summer when he sent a letter to Esther Dyson, ICANN's interim chair, questioning the group's authority and methods.

Today, Dyson defended ICANN and its processes. "We have a lot of what's in his proposal already, but we don't think we should be under governmental charter," she told CNET News.com. "Our organization has strict bylaws. We also have lots of rules for accountability."

Many in the domain name business have leveled criticism at ICANN for everything from how its board members were chosen to how it will answer the public's concerns about its policies.

Nader's latest proposal says the international charter should be based upon an "agreement among countries that express interest in working together?that agree that ICANN's role should be limited to tasks essential to maintaining an efficient and reliable [domain name system] management."

It goes on to say that ICANN should not "be used as an instrument to promote policies relating to conduct or content on the Internet."

Numerous groups with differing agendas are caught up in the domain name debate. Chief among them are domain name registrars hoping to get a piece of NSI's business. A coalition of about 20 such companies argues that NSI is making it impossible for them to compete fairly. Other groups, however, say the problems in the transition to competition derive from ICANN, which they say has usurped control of the issues.

Among his recommendations, Nader proposes that ICANN should identify a membership and elect its board of directors from its membership before it makes additional policy decisions.

"Membership should be open to anyone who uses the Internet. There should be no fee associated with membership or voting rights," Nader states in the proposal.

Dyson, however, said that Nader's proposal has no chance of being adopted by the organization, although she welcomes all public comment, including Nader's. "We pay attention to all considerations," she said.