Domain Names Under ICANN: Technical Management or Policy Chokepoint

By Kate Crabtree

Preview

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is an independent, non-profit organization which was created in 1998 to oversee the assignment of names and numbering to ensure assignments are made on a global level with participation of all relevant stakeholders representing all of the world's regions. While ICANN has enormous responsibility, their mandate and focus is quite narrow, according to their website at http://www.icann.org. ICANN's role is to "coordinate the management of only those specific technical, managerial and policy development tasks that require central coordination -- the assignment of globally unique names, addresses, and protocol parameters." ICANN is structured to allow for participation by stakeholders in its limited mandate.

The formation of ICANN soon ended the monopoly that Network Solutions, Inc., a private, for-profit enterprise, held over the domain name registration process. Since its inception, ICANN, by its mandate, has fostered growth in competition among domain name registrars. There are currently more than 30 registrars functioning, and that number is poised to triple with 60 more registrars accredited by ICANN, but not yet up and running.

Most of the participants on this morning's panel have been deeply involved with ICANN in one capacity or another since its inception. This should prove for an interesting, perhaps spirited, discussion (please refer to speaker bios for broader biographies on each panelist). The Moderator, Michael Froomkin, has served as a "public interest representative" for the World Intellectual Property Organization, Panel of Experts for the Domain Name Process, and has co-founded a website at www.ICANNWatch.org which has the purpose of reporting ICANN's every action and inaction; Amadeu Abril i Abril has recently been elected to the Board of Directors on ICANN, and won that seat with a platform which had priorities that included the following issues: improvement of ICANN structure and procedures, self-governance, and internationalization of ICANN. Before being elected to the Board of Directors, Mr. Abril i Abril served on the Names Council at ICANN; Karl Auerbach has played an active role in ICANN's General Assembly and has followed the issue of Internet governance for several years; and Jerry Berman, in his capacity as Executive Director of Center for Democracy and Technology recently studied ICANN's at-large election process at the request of the Markel Foundation, who funded the report to provide ICANN with recommendations for a more globally inclusive election process. Some of the issues which may arise in this morning's panel could include: the privacy implications of the "Whois" Database; the free expression and intellectual property implications of "famous names" and new Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) (new gTLDs would expand upon those gTLDs already in existence like .com, .net, .org, .gov); and participation in the ICANN process.

Review

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has had an active year and a half since its formation in 1998. In its mandate, it was formed to "coordinate the management of only those specific technical, managerial and policy development tasks that require central coordination -- the assignment of globally unique names, addresses and protocol parameters. It was structured to allow for participation in its limited mandate by all stakeholders.

ICANN fora can lead to spirited debate on issues regarding the privacy implications of the "Whois" Database; the free expression and intellectual property implications of the handling of "famous names"; new Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) and participation in the ICANN process. On one side of the process issue are those that feel ICANN's role should be narrowed further to include only technical management of domain names and another that feels that ICANN deserves the opportunity to prove that it is a workable solution for domain name management.

"It's better than most of us think," was the concluding statement, by Moderator Michael Froomkin, referring to ICANN, during the panel discussion "Domain Names under ICANN: Technical Management or Policy Chokepoint", before passing the discussion on ICANN's management of the domain name system in to Jerry Berman of Center for Democracy in Technology (CDT). Mr. Berman would concur with that statement, provided ICANN heed CDT's recommendation that a more direct and democratic electoral process be followed in electing its at-large Board members. He felt that ICANN "is here to stay."

Panelist Karl Auerbach insisted that the image of ICANN as a corporation formed by the Internet community "is a fiction" fundamentally flawed, since its growth thus far has not yielded wide participation by the Internet community. Richard Sexton added his suspicion that ICANN would fail just as many other previous Internet initiatives have. Mr. Berman suggested that ICANN is here to stay." ICANN Board Member Amadeu Abril i Abril, teleconferencing into CFP2000 from Barcelona is confident that ICANN is a workable and global solution to domain name management. The internationalization of ICANN is one of his priorities as a Board Member.

There appeared to be some consensus among the panelists that U.S. government role in ICANN should eventually desist, in order to allow for the global Internet community to appreciate its potential. One reason many of the panelists agree work toward a solution amenable to the Internet community, within the parameters of ICANN in its current form, is that if ICANN does not succeed, its failure could lead to the domain name system being managed by governments or United Nations, which is not a desired solution for the Internet community.