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U.S. Still Has Keys to ICANN

The United States will eventually transfer oversight of the Internet domain naming system (DNS) to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Just exactly when, however, is still at issue.

At a Department of Commerce hearing Wednesday, John Kneuer, the acting assistant secretary for communications and information, said the U.S. government remains committed to transferring control of the DNS.

However, Kneuer also told the panel the U.S. would continue into the foreseeable future to control changes to the master file of Internet addresses.

ICANN was created in 1998 to run the DNS system under the supervision of National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA), a division of the Department of Commerce.

The original concept was for the U.S. to cede private control to ICANN by 2000, but the memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been extended five times as the Marina Del Rey, Calif.-based ICANN failed to meet certain performance standards.

The latest MOU is set to expire Sept. 30.

"It's extremely likely there will be a renewal of the MOU," David McGuire of the Center for Democracy and Technology, who testified at Wednesday's hearing, told internetnews.com.

As for Kneuer's comments, McGuire added, "All envision ICANN to be independent someday, so it's not shocking that someday that will happen."

Someday.

"It is clear now that the original timetable established for ICANN was overly ambitious," McGuire testified Wednesday.

"Nine years later, questions remain about how well ICANN has met…initial goals, and the U.S. government retains an increasingly controversial oversight role in the ICANN process."

That controversy exploded last summer when the United Nations' Working Group on Internet Governance contended that "no single government should have a pre-eminent role in relation to International Internet governance."

The international movement to wrest control of ICANN from the U.S. prompted the House of Representatives to approve on a 423-0 vote a "Sense of the Congress" resolution to keep Internet governance in U.S. hands.

The resolution was non-binding and carried no weight of law.

McGuire said ICANN has met its goals in stabilizing the DNS registry system and promoting competition among domain name providers.

He added, though, ICANN "has yet to achieve the procedural transparency, and more importantly, the broad involvement of Internet users essential to its bid for global legitimacy."

"On the issue of representation specifically, ICANN has taken notable steps backward, hastily abandoning direct public representation after an abortive experiment with global elections."

McGuire also said ICANN might need to meet an additional milestone before becoming an independent body.

Before the U.S. turns over control to ICANN, he suggested, there needs to be "mechanisms in place so that it [ICANN] is not recaptured by another entity."

The DNS system acts as a sort of address book for global Internet services, translating URLs, such as internetnews.com into strings of numbers, such as 63.236.72.133, that computers can understand.

Under the current MOU, the Department of Commerce must approve any significant changes to the naming system.