The private nonprofit board that is one step away from being handed the keys to run the Internet's crucial domain name system today elected the people that will lead the transition.
Michael M. Roberts, a policy consultant who has had experience setting up nonprofit technology start-ups, will serve as interim president and chief executive officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, also known as the new Internet Assigned Numbers Authority IANA.
Technology pundit Esther Dyson will serve as interim chair of the board.
The executive committee will include Dyson, Gregory L. Crew of Australia, Hans Kraaijenbrink of the Netherlands, and Roberts. Other initial board members include Geraldine Capdeboscq of France, George H. Conrades of the United States, Frank Fitzsimmons of the United States, Jun Murai of Japan, Eugenio Triana of Spain, and Linda S. Wilson of the United States.
ICANN, a private nonprofit corporation, is the Department of Commerce's top pick for the agency that will oversee the domain name system.
The U.S. government currently runs the system, contracting out responsibilities to different organizations. But for more than two years, the government has been trying to find a way to gracefully hand off control of the domain name management system, without which the Internet simply would stop working.
Last week, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration sent ICANN a letter with a list of things it would have to change for the department to finally relinquish its control.
ICANN met over the weekend in an airport by Kennedy airport in New York, Roberts said today. While the board made no decisions other than to appoint its board, it did discuss several issues, including its response to the government, Roberts said.
The letter focused primarily on ICANN's need to be more publicly accountable for its actions.
Roberts said the board is weighing how it can balance the efficiency gained by meeting without public scrutiny with the need to keep the public informed.
"We think the reason why the government wanted to transfer responsibility to a private corporation was because it wanted some ability to get the job done in a timely way...and also [in a way] that satisfies the perfectly legitimate concerns about fairness."
Several organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have criticized ICANN for not being open enough.
But Roberts said that, for a nonprofit organization, ICANN is very open.
"There is more open process in these bylaws than in any other nonprofit corporation I've ever seen," Roberts said. The board is committed to a very extensive, open, and transparent process."
He said that there is "a great diversity of opinion" about whether the board will serve as a quasi-governmental organization or as a private body that controls the way domain names are handled across the Internet.
"The board is going to navigate its way through the minefield that the Internet is," he said. "The bylaws require that anything that affects anyone in the community will be done in an open and transparent way."
Roberts said he hoped to have ICANN's response to the Commerce Department letter by the end of this week.
He said also that ICANN plans on holding a public meeting over the next month, but has not yet set a specific date for it.
Roberts said he realizes that the job ICANN faces is monumental. "It's a big job, and we're approaching it with appropriate humility," he said.
A salaried employee of ICANN, Roberts is temporarily taking leave of his consultancy practice to concentrate on the transition. When asked about his salary, he declined to comment.
"The board is not going to talk about compensation," he said. "They consider that their business."