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Internet

Foundation to fund ICANN's general election

The nonprofit, philanthropic Markle Foundation will commit to funding a groundbreaking general election to let the online community select half of the board in charge of the Net's critical address system.

    The nonprofit, philanthropic Markle Foundation tomorrow will commit to funding a groundbreaking general election to let the online community select half of the board in charge of the Net's critical address system, according to sources familiar with the announcement.

    The White House-backed Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit corporation, asked the Markle Foundation for up to $200,000 to kick-start its at-large membership, which will comprise everyday Net users.

    The Markle Foundation plans to grant ICANN the money before the body's first annual meeting this week in Los Angeles, sources said.

    Markle wouldn't confirm that it plans to fund the ICANN at-large election structure. However, the foundation's president, Zoe Baird, will be making "a major announcement regarding ICANN" tomorrow, according to an advisory sent out last week.

    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 Markle 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 18 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.

    "A larger grant of $200,000 would allow ICANN to dedicate significantly greater resources toward outreach, member recruitment, and public awareness initiatives, such as well-designed and accessible educational materials in major non-English languages," ICANN stated in its request to Markle.

    At-large members would have to have an email address, physical address, verifiable citizenship, and the financial ability to pay an undetermined membership fee.

    Mobilizing Net users
    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.

    Markle's Policy for a Networked Society project was set up "to develop a global policy network to develop principles of regulation on important policy issues." The project also will create a running list of legal advocates "who can represent the public interest in regulatory proceedings, before administrative agencies, and in the courts."

    The money from Markle also could help ICANN build its credibility.

    Although the nine new ICANN board members were elected by the Net industry, protocol groups, and other stakeholders over the past month, the general public still doesn't have strong representation within ICANN.

    Skepticism has plagued ICANN, starting with the public's uncertainty regarding how ICANN's initial board members were picked. When ICANN came on the scene, no one knew who had picked the board, although later the list was said to have been penned by Jon Postel, who headed the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority before he died suddenly in October of last year.