Government May Investigate ICANN

Government watchdog groups are asking the U.S. government to hold oversight hearings on the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Citizens Against Government Waste, Americans for Tax Reform and Citizens for a Sound Economy all are calling for lawmakers to investigate the ways in which ICANN makes procedural decisions such as proposing fees for domain name registration.

The groups embarked on a letter-writing campaign Friday to the House Commerce Committee voicing opposition to fees proposed by ICANN, claiming decisions have been made in private, undermining the intent of the organization to facilitate openness.

“Oversight hearings may be the only way to ever discover exactly what [ICANN] is attempting in cooperation with the Commerce Department,” reads a letter sent Friday from the Americans for Tax Reform.

“While ICANN continues to act as a governmental entity none of its decisions, meetings or directors are subject to (open-meeting) laws. Further, ICANN has refused to hold open board meetings or explain how the board was chosen.”

The groups favor the current system, in which domain name registration is handled by Network Solutions, Inc.

ICANN took a step to defend itself earlier this week in a letter from interim Chairperson Esther Dyson to Ralph Nader and James Love, answering their questions about the structure and procedures of the organization. She explained that ICANN has a “limited mandate,” and does not “aspire to address any Internet governance issues.”

Dyson also accused NSI of “mudslinging” and stirring up oppostion in order to boost its reputation.

House Commerce committee sources say hearings are likely and that Chairman Representative Thomas Bliley wants to ensure that the Internet industry runs smoothly.

The calls for investigation of ICANN follow recent efforts by Network Solutions Inc., the company whose monopoly in domain registrations ICANN was formed to eliminate. NSI has entertained several conservative and free-market groups at its headquarters in suburban Virginia in recent days.

The push for new government oversight of ICANN comes just a week before Network Solutions is obligated to sign an agreement with the governance board. NSI has publicly said it will refuse to sign the contract because it gives ICANN too much power.

At this point, it’s unclear how the dispute will be resolved. Department of Commerce representatives were unavailable for comment. However, the agency has repeatedly said it expects NSI to become an accredited registrar.

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