Lawmakers warn of ICANN’s split with Commerce

A group of lawmakers is appealing to the Commerce Department to take action to keep up its close ties with the organization that oversees the system of assigning names on the Internet.

Since its inception in 1998, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has operated in partnership with the Commerce Department, but the Joint Project Agreement (JPA) that keeps it tethered to the U.S. government is set to expire on Sept. 30.

In a letter sent to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, 10 lawmakers, including the chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the subcommittee that oversees Internet issues, appealed for a more binding and permanent agreement with ICANN, which has been widely criticized for operating without the transparency and accountability its constituents would like to see.

“Rather than replacing the JPA with additional JPAs or Memoranda of Understanding that expire every few years, we believe the time has come for a permanent instrument to which ICANN and the Department of Commerce are co-signatories,” they wrote.

The lawmakers outlined several principles they’d like to see included in the arrangement, which would involve guarantees from ICANN that it will remain a nonprofit group based in the United States. Many of the signatories were on hand to grill outgoing ICANN CEO Paul Twomey at a House subcommittee hearing in June.

Twomey, for his part, said that ICANN planned to remain a U.S.-based nonprofit, and that while the group wouldn’t likely renew the JPA, he tried to assure the representatives that nothing substantive about its operations would change after September.

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