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ICANN's ccTLD Quandary

U.S.-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced Thursday afternoon it's the new operator of the .jp top-level domain (TLD), providing technical and coordination functions for the domain extension.

The deal, which looks good on paper, highlights one of the largest problems managers of the U.S. root server face today: getting the international community to like them again.

ICANN president and Chief Executive Officer M. Stuart Lynn said the agreement recognizes the need for his organizations policies to ensure stability and interoperability on the Internet.

"It continues the Japanese Internet community's traditions of leadership in the global Internet, and their interest in participating fully in the ICANN process," he said.

The .jp ccTLD is only the second foreign domain space to acknowledge ICANN's authority as the policymakers for worldwide Internet management. Last October, the organization penned a deal with Australia's .au registry.

ICANN has had a tough time convincing the international community to accept standards put forth by the organization. Critics say the Marina Del Ray, Calif., organization has been using the Internet power of the three domain extensions it manages (.com, .net and .org, among others) to strong arm the rest of the world into a universal standard in its own image.

Last year, a working group of ccTLD owners from around the world unanimously voted to withdraw from ICANN, claiming the organization ignored their attempts to effectively participate in the domain name supporting organization (DNSO), one of three ICANN supporting organizations, at the same time it was collecting annual dues for their participation.

Since then, officials have been looking for a way to bring ccTLD owners back to the table.

But the deal brokered Thursday between Lynn and the operator of Japanese Network Information Center (JPNIC), Dr. Jun Murai, is a case of ICANN making a lot of "somethings out of nothing," according to Judith Oppenheimer, president of ICB Toll-Free Consultancy, an advocate who's worked on past ICANN issues.

Murai, one of 19 ICANN directors, is already part of the ICANN process, she said, so it wasn't like ICANN did anything extraordinary to win a new convert in the international community.

"This is nothing more than a pre-negotiated deal to make it look like ICANN has Internet community support," she said. "ICANN's inability to strike a deal with the majority of ccTLD's is public record, so they arrange a deal with one of their own directors so it looks like they're making progress on the ccTLD front -- which of course they're not."

ICANN was awarded management of the U.S. root server from the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1998 to oversee the technical operations and stability of the world's most popular domain name extensions: .com, .net and .org.

But in a memorandum of understanding drafted between the DoC and ICANN it was made clear ICANN would only manage the root server, with the government body approving any policies, until the organization signed agreements with the world's ccTLDs. At that point, ICANN would gain ownership of the U.S. root server entirely.