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Foundation allots $1 million for Net governance

The nonprofit, philanthropic Markle Foundation says it will commit more than $1 million to improve Internet governance and to help make policymaking bodies more accountable to Net users.

    The nonprofit, philanthropic Markle Foundation today said it would commit more than $1 million to improve Internet governance and to help make the body in charge of the Net's critical address system more accountable to Net users.

    As previously reported, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) had asked the Markle Foundation to grant it $200,000 to fund a groundbreaking general election to let the online community select half of ICANN's board.

    Markle granted ICANN the money as the body convened its first annual meeting this week in Los Angeles.

    "Management of the Internet by a private entity will not be stable or legitimate if that entity does not adequately include the public voice," Zoe Baird, president of the Markle Foundation, said in a statement. "So it is essential that ICANN…be accountable to all Internet users everywhere."

    ICANN was recognized by the U.S. government last November to administer the Internet's core technical functions and to foster competition to Network Solutions, which has dominated the domain name registration market thanks to an exclusive government contract.

    The ICANN board votes on important policies, including which companies can sell domain name registrations and how to settle trademark fights over names. In the future it also will decide whether to create more domains, such as ".firm."

    ICANN critics have said in public meetings that there isn't a meaningful way for individuals or noncommercial entities to help mold ICANN's policies--aside from posting to a static comments page on ICANN's Web site. ICANN's policies stand to affect the rights of every business or individual who registers a Net name, the primary entry point to information and commerce online.

    ICANN hopes to use the cash infusion from the Markle Foundation to sign up at least 5,000 at-large members, who will vote in 9 directors to the ICANN board next summer, expanding the board to 19 members.

    Although ICANN has been deliberating about how to broaden its spectrum of participants, the real burden to building an at-large membership has been simple: The organization has no money. Despite its massive responsibility, ICANN has been struggling to raise cash since its inception.

    Esther Dyson, ICANN's interim chair, said in a statement that the organization is "delighted" about the Markle Foundation's contribution. "Markle's commitment to broad public participation in setting policy for the Internet infrastructure is evident in the size of the grant and the issues that come with it," she said.

    "We plan to use the money to move quickly in public outreach so that we can have broad an informed public input as we move forward in the design and implementation of the at-large membership structure," Dyson added.

    To participate in ICANN activities, at-large members will need an email address, physical address, verifiable citizenship, and the financial ability to pay an undetermined membership fee.

    Encouraging accountability
    The Markle Foundation and ICANN seem to make a good match on this project. Under Baird, the foundation has become dedicated to garnering grassroots participation in Net governance and communications policy matters. The money from Markle also could help ICANN build its credibility.

    Markle said that in addition to the $200,000 allocated to ICANN, it will commit more than $1 million to its Internet Governance Project, which is designed to promote public interest in international organizations that make decisions and set standards that affect the Net.

    These organizations include the World Wide Web Consortium, the World Trade Organization, and the World Intellectual Property Organization--bodies that address issues such as e-commerce standards, consumer protection, privacy, Net content regulation, and Internet taxation.

    Through its Internet Governance Project, Markle hopes to increase public awareness of the decisions made by policymaking bodies, provide analysis from experts in the Net policy arena, and assist in building institutions by making policymaking entities more accountable and democratic while making sure they remain efficient, the foundation said.'s Jennifer Balderama contributed to this report.