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ICANN Edges Closer to Independence

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has signed a new agreement for the management of the Internet’s core functions with the U.S. Department of Commerce which extends through 2009. Although the U.S. government is not ceding control over ICANN, it is taking the first steps towards letting ICANN establish an independent, multi-stakeholder model for Internet governance.

In other words, the Commerce Department is pledging less hands-on involvement with how ICANN manages the Internet.

ICANN is charged with operating and managing the Internet’s core functions, most notably the top-level DNS servers which do the names-to-numbers lookups which let users access and link to Internet sites by name rather than only by cryptic IP numbers. Part of that role involves governance and policy issues surrounding domain registrars, management of top-level domains like .com and the new .mobi. The organization has been the target of a great deal of recent criticism and scrutiny as international members decry lack of transparency in ICANN processes, and the organization has been force to comply with Commerce Department mandates: the U.S. government has repeatedly asserted that control of the Internet is a matter of U.S. national security, and in May of this year blocked the creation of a so-called “online red light district” in the form of a “.xxx” top-level domain.

Under the new agreement, the Department of Commerce will no longer prescribe ICANN’s activities—the organization will be free to set its own agendas, and will no longer have to report to the Commerce Department every six months.

“The ICANN model of multi-stakeholder consultation is working and this agreement endorses it. Our community makes it work and we are constantly evolving and improving through their advice and support,” said Dr. Paul Twomey, President and CEO of ICANN, in a statement. “This is a great achievement for the ICANN community. Our community is made up of very committed, highly skilled individuals most of whom are volunteers and take their responsibilities very seriously. This result is a tribute to their efforts.”

ICANN had always been envisions as an organization to oversee the transition of Internet governance to a private organization; however, others believe that Internet governance should be managed by an international organization with no single entity having a dominant role.

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