Long-Time ICANN Head Twomey to Step Down by End of 2009

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Paul Twomey, the head of the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has announced he will not seek a renewal of his contract with the agency and will "move on" from ICANN at the end of 2009. Twomey gave no reason for his departure except to say he is say he wants to "move on to another leadership position in the private or international sectors." The announcement can at ICANN’s 34th Annual International Public Meeting in Mexico City.

Twomey says he plans to stay on for an unspecified period after a successor is found to aid in a transition. His contract with ICANN expires July 1; Twomey indicated he declined a three-year contract extension with ICANN last year. Twomey has been ICANN’s chief executive since 2003.

The announcement comes just as ICANN is holding a public meeting on streamlining procedures for adding top-level domains to the global Internet, in a move that could lead to a land-rush of new domain names competing with the venerable .com, .net, .org, and .edu, along with country-specific suffixes and relatively new TLDs like .mobi. ICANN is also working to finalize procedures to enable non-English domains.

Twomey’s decision to depart from ICANN comes a bit over a year after so-called "Father of the Internet" Vinton Cerf’s departure as ICANN chairman.

Over the years, ICANN has been roundly criticized by the international community as a pawn of the United States government; under the recent Bush administration, the U.S. Commerce Department—which technically supervises ICANN—actually put its foot down and barred ICANN from introducing top-level domains for adult content, which many argued would be the equivalent of creating an vice district on the Internet. Discontent even led some parties to consider setting up alternative registration and governance authorities—which could potentially create parallel Internet networks that could not (necessarily) communicate with each other. Nonetheless, ICANN has managed to hang onto its spot at the head of Internet governance, while slowly trying to work its way free of oversight by the U.S. government.

ICANN has not made any indication who may be in line as possible replacements for Twomey.