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ICANN's Affirmation Agreement Wins Praise

The U.S. government no longer holds ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) on a tight leash, and that's a good thing according to many in the Internet industry.

Yesterday, ICANN announced a landmark deal, officially called the Affirmation of Commitments, that will see oversight move from the Commerce Department to a multi-national model. With its break with the U.S. government, praise has poured in from former critics of ICANN, as well as key ICANN stakeholders.

ICANN is the non-profit organization that oversees the administration of the Internet including how domain registries and registrars operate.

"We welcome the new era for ICANN and we're very pleased that there seems to be a focus on decisions that are in the public interest," Alexa Raad, CEO of the Public Interest Registry, the group that maintains the .org domain, told InternetNews.com. "Not to mention that our name is the Public Interest Registry, so we feel a kinship mission-wise."

The .org registry is one of the original three generic Top-Level Domains alongside .com and .net. The technical infrastructure for the .org registry is managed by Afilias, a vendor that manages 15 different top level domains including .org, .info and .mobi among others. Brian Cute, Afilias' vice president of discovery services, said he doesn't expect much to change under ICANN's new arrangement.

"I don't see any significant change other than perhaps the U.S. government is loosing its role a bit," Cute told InternetNews.com. "And there really is an opportunity for governments around the world to participate more forcefully and strongly within the ICANN model."

One of those governments is the European Union (EU), an organization whose members had previously criticized U.S control of ICANN. Viviane Reding, the EU's Commissioner for Information Society and Media who blasted U.S. hegemony over ICANN in public comments in May, welcomed the new arrangement.

"The European Commission is strongly committed to make this reform a reality by working together with our partners in government, business, and civil society," Reding said in a statement, pledging that the European government would play an "active role" in the newly formed Governmental Advisory Committee.

"We will also pay close attention to the effect of ICANN's work on competition," Reding said. "I would also encourage all parties to actively explore the possibilities for stronger external appeal mechanisms in relation to decisions of the ICANN Board. Independence and accountability for ICANN now look much better on paper. Let's work together to ensure that they also work in practice."

But wider government participation isn't winning universal praise.

Erik Syverson a Los Angeles attorney who has been active in Internet law and domain name cases, doesn't see the new agreement as leading to any imminent or immediate operational changes, and he's not convinced that multi-national government oversight is a positive development.

"Organizational structures will not be replaced overnight and the affirmation seeks to generally maintain the status quo at this moment," Syverson told InternetNews.com. "But, over time, increased private and international control will likely erode or evolve the organizational structure of ICANN as we know it today. Without a doubt, increased international involvement is going to throw a monkey wrench into things."

Syverson warned that under the new structure, ICANN could fall victim to one of the traps of government by committee.

"It is likely that the more disparate voices at the table, the less coherent and efficient ICANN's operations and decision-making will become."