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ICANN Makes Case for Independence

The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—ICANN—is responsible for many aspects of Internet governance, including aspects of Internet addressing: operating the root DNS servers that tie together the Internet, as well as determining who can (and cannot) act as domain registrars, what top-level domains will be supported, and more. Now, in a lengthy report (PDF) sent to the U.S. government, the organization says it’s ready to be cut loose from oversight by the Department of Commerce and operate as a fully independent organization.

Since its formation, ICANN has always operated under the auspices of the Department of Commerce, owing to the Internet’s origins in the Department of Defense and expansion under the National Science Foundation. The U.S. government’s role in supervising ICANN has been a continual thorn in the side for many domestic and international parties, who believe the role means ICANN can never be more than a mouthpiece for the U.S. government—and, indeed, the Commerce Department has flexed its muscles on occasion, forbidding the creation of a so-called “Internet red-light district” by way of a .xxx top-level domain, and declaring governance of the Internet to be a matter of U.S. national security. Many argue Internet governance should be turned over to a truly international body, and some nations have explored the idea of opting out of an ICANN-managed Internet and setting up their own alternative networks.

ICANN is currently operating under a memorandum of understanding that could eventually lead to the U.S. ceding its control of the organization. Under a Joint Project Agreement (JPA), ICANN was to comply with a series of “responsibilities” before the Commerce Department would consider setting it loose; now, ICANN’s president Paul Twomey argues that the organization has met nearly all those objectives, and the time has come for ICANN to break free.

“Has the process of the MoU and JPA towards building a stable, strong organization which can do this transition, has that been successful?” wrote Twomey in the report. “The board is effectively saying yes.” And ICANN chair Peter Thrush takes it further in a letter sent with the report: “The Board proposes that the JPA is no longer necessary and can be concluded.”

ICANN is due to meet with Commerce Department officials in March; the Commerce Department’s public comment period on whether ICANN should be granted independence runs through February 14.

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