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ICANN Beginning to Smell Control

UPDATED: The U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) agreed to relax its control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) as part of a new contract to replace the "highly prescriptive" one that expired Saturday.

Under the three-year deal, ICANN, whose chief job is allocating IP addresses, will have more freedom from the government, whose influences many critics felt were not always with those of the Internet community.

ICANN said in a statement it "will no longer have its work prescribed for it. How it works and what it works on is up to ICANN and its community to devise."

For example, ICANN is not required to report every six months as it has been under the previous agreement. There is also no requirement to report regularly to the DOC.

The group will now publish an annual report for the Internet community.

The deal puts ICANN that much closer to being a private-sector entity with "multi-stakeholder management," said ICANN President and CEO Paul Twomey.

"ICANN has secured an agreement that recognizes it as being responsible for the management of the Internet's system of unique identifiers on an ongoing basis. It means ICANN is more autonomous."

The deal, which runs through 2009, garnered praise from the European Union Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding, whose division has for years opposed governmental control over ICANN.

"I welcome the U.S. government's declared intention to grant more autonomy to ICANN and to end its governmental oversight of the day-to-day management of the Internet over the next three years," Reding said in a statement obtained by internetnews.com.

Reding said the agreement takes ICANN one step "towards full private sector management of the Internet," and noted that the EU believes ICANN is the best party positioned to determine Internet governance issues.

"The European Commission will follow closely ICANN's transition to full independence in the next three years," Reding added.

"With our advice, we will contribute to this transition to ensure that it takes place transparently, reflecting the interests of industry and civil society alike."

While the new deal should satisfy ICANN's desire for more freedom to govern the Web, it could be a concern for some U.S. representatives who may feel the deal puts ICANN one step closer to leaving the purview of the U.S.

For example, at a recent meeting between ICANN and the U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said ICANN should remain under the watchful eye of the U.S.

Upton said ICANN needs to be closely monitored and that the U.S. government is the best watchdog for this task.

Critics from other countries distrust the U.S.'s influence and feel that ICANN should be put under the auspices of the United Nations.

The agreement is also the second contract renewal in as many months between ICANN and the DOC.

In August, the parties renewed a pact for ICANN to continue managing IP addresses, protocol identifiers, and managing generic (gTLD) and country code (ccTLD) Top-Level Domain name systems and root servers.

The five-year deal ensures that ICANN will continue to preside over the Domain Name System, a kind of Internet postal service that lets Web-connected computers find each other and pass along e-mail messages and Web pages.