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U.S. Commerce Dept. Renews ICANN Contract

The U.S. Department of Commerce has signed a five-year agreement with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to run basic oversight functions of the Internet, including managing the Internet’s root servers, allocation of IP address spaces, management of top-level domains, and other functions.

ICANN’s link with—and subordinate nature to—the U.S. Commerce Department has been the target of growing criticism in the international community, particularly as ICANN has had to bow to Commerce Department policy positions. For instance, the Commerce Department essentially blocked the creation of a top-level domain for adult content (a “.xxx” domain, often referred to as an “Internet red-light district”), and has asserted that control over the Internet’s root servers and DNS policy is a key national interest of the United States, and shifting those authorities to an international organization simply isn’t open for consideration. Around the world, governments and organizations are demanding a greater role in the way ICANN makes decisions, and several have talked of backing out of ICANN entirely and setting up their own Internet governance groups. If that were to happen, name resolution and interoperability between essentially separate Internets might be difficult or impossible: www.digitaltrends.com might resolve to different sites, depending on an Internet user’s location and provider(s).

Clauses in the new contract extend Commerce’s relationship with ICANN through 2011 on a year-by-year basis, theoretically opening doors every year for ICANN to shift to an international or wholly private realm. ICANN says talks between the organization and the Commerce Department over ICANN’s future role are “ongoing.”

The first meeting of the United Nation’s Internet Governance Forum is scheduled to begin on October 30, 2006 in Athens, Greece, with the goal of establishing truly international mechanisms for overseeing the Internet.

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