RealTime IT News
Some Say ICANN Loses Legitimacy
By Jim Wagner
October 30, 2002

The board of directors at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) certainly created a contentious air at its semi-annual meeting, deciding to phase out five of its publicly-elected director spots Wednesday.

But more importantly, the words of the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) operators and regional Internet registries (RIRs) should have ICANN officials worried.

ICANN's role as governing body over all domain names on the Internet is secured only by the cooperation of the foreign domain registries, who control the foreign TLDs (like .au, .uk and .de). The organization has so far managed to keep the cooperation of the foreign bodies only through its governance of the U.S. root server, which controls the three major domain names -- .com, .net and .org.

ccTLDs and RIRs are beginning to think they can do better on their own, rather than take guidance from an organization they feel is shutting them out of any policy decisions affecting the domain name business.

Peter Dengate Thrush, one of those ccTLD operators, spoke at the Shanghai meeting this week, threatening to establish its own Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which manages the IP addresses behind every domain name. Currently, ICANN has management of the only IANA right now, but its contract with the U.S. government expires next March.

According to one Web blog following the meeting, Thrush said ccTLDs may prefer "to attend ITU (International Telecommunications Union) meetings instead of ICANN meetings." The ITU is a United Nations agency that adopts telecom regulations and standards.

The ccTLD committee passed a resolution at the Shanghai committee, stating they would look elsewhere for competent management of the IANA.

"In view of the continuing failures by ICANN in conducting its stewardship of the IANA function, particularly in relation to ccTLD database updates, managers agreed to set up a Working Group to develop a plan to set up a system of independent management of the DNS root entries and database entries. It is expected this plan will be developed in parallel with attempts to create an acceptable ccSO (country code supporting organization), and to be available in the event that is unsuccessful."

Hans Klein, chairman of the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, said if you take away the ccTLDs and RIRs, the only people left in ICANN are the global TLDs (gTLDs) like .com and the other six approved by ICANN. It would create an organization that doesn't represent the entire Internet and eliminates much of its authority.

"I think legitimacy matters, (ICANN directors) don't," he said. "If you kill the legitimacy of an organization, you put the organization at risk. ICANN has decided that legitimacy doesn't matter; it's done away with many of the mechanisms that ensured its legitimacy.

"If people start leaving the organization, it will be ruined," he added.

ICANN critics say ICANN is becoming increasingly more closed, despite by-laws created by the U.S. Department of Commerce requiring an open process. Nowhere is that more evident than ICANNs reform decision to eliminate five sitting board members from the 18-person directorate. The five seats eliminated were those to be filled by publicly-elected members of the Internet community.

One of those seats belonged to Karl Auerbach, the North American representative on the ICANN board of directors and a long-time critic of ICANN policies. Since December of 2000, he has tried to get access to the organization's financial and budget records, even successfully suing ICANN through the California courts to get the records.

The matter is still pending.

Auerbach, whose term was due to expire next year regardless, was held as one of only a few public representatives giving voice to the average Internet users. Critics say the decision to eliminate five of the 18 board of director slots is outrageous, and further proof that ICANN staffers are weeding out the voices that don't represent government or big business.

"What's outrageous is that because the ICANN staff can't stand to have its actions questioned, it's making sure it never has to face the user community in an election again," said Michael Froomkin, one of the editors of industry watchdog Web site ICANNwatch.org. "In fact, in the new 'reform' plan, ICANN's insiders have put themselves in charge of the process that will select their successors."

Klein doesn't feel quite as strongly, but wonders at the decision ICANN has made over the past year.

"I feel it's almost in ICANN's interest to make such a mess of things that people are terrified that doing anything but staying with the current leaders would be dangerous," he said. "I don't know if they planned this out it just happens. The real question is, whether there's any alternative to ICANN?"

ICANN officials were unavailable for comment at press time, though Stuart Lynn, ICANN president, will speak to reporters at a post-meeting press conference Thursday.