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U.N. 'Net Plan Could Stall ICANN's

Executives at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Friday are pleased with a United Nations (UN) report outlining four possible futures for Internet governance.

But Vint Cerf, ICANN chairman, and Paul Twomey, ICANN president and CEO, speaking at a press conference from the organization's tri-annual meeting held in Luxembourg this week, wouldn't comment on the individual proposals by the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), some of which call for revamping ICANN or at least subsuming it within a UN body.

The WGIG has been working since November to investigate and make proposals on what shape Internet governance should take in the global community. The working group is part of an overall effort under way at the World Summit on the Information Society to reach an agreement on who and how the Internet should be run.

Forty individuals representing government entities, private sector and civil societies, conducted four meetings on the subject at the behest of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The meetings were held to define what Internet governance meant; find common ground on the roles government; international organizations and the private sector should play, and identify; public policy issues.

Cerf said he was pleased with the tone of the UN-sponsored report, which acknowledges equal input from government agencies, the private sector and individuals.

"This is an unusual formula because most such bodies are inter-governmental in their character and most governments are not accustomed to sharing equal billing with the private sector and civil society," he said. "So this entire discussion in this WGIG committee has moved the debate into a space where it has generally not been before and I view that as a very positive signal."

The working group came up with four possible models for Internet governance:

  1. A UN-based Global Internet Council to replace ICANN, though the U.S.-based organization would remain a subsidiary organization and continue with its role providing technical and operational oversight. Governments will take a leading role under this model, with the private sector and civil society in an advisory capacity.
  2. Keeping ICANN intact, with the possible expansion of the group's Governmental Advisory Committee in order to meet specific governmental needs.
  3. Creating an International Internet Council of government agencies, with advisory seats for the private sector and civil society, working alongside the technical bodies of ICANN and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).
  4. Creating three organizations that coordinate activities among each other. The Global Internet Policy Council would be run by government entities; the World ICANN would continue with its current role as the technical and operational body; and the Global Internet Governance Forum would coordinate and discuss Internet-related public policy issues and have equal membership between government officials, the private sector and civil society.

One of the main conclusions in the report found that no individual government should have a pre-eminent role in regards to international Internet governance. That consensus puts the U.N. squarely against current U.S. policy, which earlier this week reversed its policy on ceding control of the root server containing the Internet's top-level domains (TLDs).

The Department of Commerce's (DoC) National Telecommunications and Information Administration posted four defining U.S. principles as outlined by Assistant Secretary Michael Gallagher at a recent conference: preserving the security and stability of the DNS by retaining control; governments have a legitimate interest in the management of their own country-code TLDs (ccTLDs); ICANN is the appropriate technical manager of the DNS; and worldwide dialogue should continue to facilitate discussion and advance shared interests.

Before the turnaround, the DoC had agreed to free ICANN from its subcontractor status, and ICANN was taking steps to become a self-governing international body.

Paul Twomey, ICANN president and CEO, said the organization does not speak on behalf of the U.S. government, but the wording of the government's new position was more a statement of fact than a new direction the U.S. is taking.

"As an ex-government official myself, I always think with such statements that it's not just what they say but what they don't say," he said. "That statement had nothing in it concerning the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between ICANN and the U.S. government.

"The MoU continues as planned," Twomey continued, "and we're working towards that as business as usual and we certainly do not have the perception that was generated very quickly by some in the media the next day, that it was some sort of radical disenfranchisement of ICANN."