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ICANN And The DOC Can’t

The former contract with ICANN and the US Department of Commerce (DOC) was due to expire on September 30, 2002. In the statement announcing the renewal, the DOC acknowledged that ICANN was the subject of many complaints from many sectors of the Internet community. Some of these complaints had been presented to the US Congress during a hearing held in June 2002 by a Senate Subcommittee. At the hearing, a General Accounting Office (GAO) spokesperson, Peter Guerrero, testified, noting not only that ICANN had failed in its mandate, but that the U.S. Department of Commerce was also at fault in failing to properly oversee ICANN activities. He explains:

“[T]he Department’s public assessment of the status of the transition process has been limited in that its oversight of ICANN has been informal, it has not issued status reports, and it has not publicly commented on specific reform proposals being considered by ICANN.? (GAO-02-805T, pg. 12)

In response, the Department claimed, “They have been reluctant to comment on ICANN’s progress due to sensitivity to international concerns that the United States might be seen as directing ICANN’s actions.” (GAO-02-805T, pg. 14)

The GAO spokesperson also noted that ICANN had failed “to address…increasing the stability and security of the Internet; ensuring representation of the Internet community in the domain name policy making; and using private, bottom-up coordination.” (GAO-02-805T, pg. 5)

The GAO spokesperson said:

?[T]he effort to privatize the domain name system has reached a critical juncture, as evidenced by slow progress on key tasks and ICANN’s current initiative to reevaluate its mission and consider options for reforming its structure and operations. Until these issues are resolved, the timing and eventual outcome of the transition effort remain highly uncertain and ICANN’s legitimacy and effectiveness as the private sector manager of the domain name system remain in question?? (GAO-02-805T, pg. 15)

Given the severity and widespread nature of the criticisms of ICANN’s activities, it was important that the U.S. Department of Commerce treat the complaints very seriously. This requires that the DOC investigate the problem toward finding a way to propose a remedy.

Is this what the DOC has done in awarding a new one year contract to ICANN?

Unfortunately, the answer is “No”.

The announcement of the new contract contains a helpful description of the needed functions to be undertaken by an international and scientific entity:

“The mission of ICANN is to coordinate the stable operation of the Internet’s identifier systems. In particular, ICANN:

a. Coordinates the allocation and assignment of three sets of unique identifiers for the Internet: Domain names (forming a system referred to as the “DNS”); Internet protocol (IP) addresses and autonomous system (AS numbers); and Protocol port and parameter numbers.

b. Coordinates the operation and evolution of the DNS’s root name server system.

c. Coordinates policy-development as necessary to perform these functions.? (Announcement, pg. 12)

However, ICANN is ‘not’ a scientific entity. Instead it is a corporate management structure that is being created by the U.S. government to create “competition” regarding the sale of these “identifiers”.

The fundamental flaw of ICANN is that one cannot create “competition”, i.e., award lucrative contracts to selected private companies to sell the “unique identifiers” to the public, and also provide a stable and responsible body to coordinate and assign these identifiers. The identifiers are public property created as part of the scientific cooperation of many nations and people to create the Internet. Cooperative and international efforts make the Internet possible. To try to change such cooperative and international effort into a “private sector” commercial entity with the power to award lucrative contracts to private entities, is to create what Joseph Stiglitz calls “crony capitalism.”

This has no place in the administration and management of the Internet’s infrastructure.

The DOC offers as a reason for renewing the contract with ICANN that it wishes to avoid ?the uncertainty that would be generated by a drastic change in direction on DNS management.? (Announcement, 5)

Maintaining an entity which is flawed and fails to meet the needs that it was created for, is justified by the US government on the grounds that:

The Department has stressed repeatedly, the security and stability of the Internet is its primary concern. Abruptly changing oversight of critical DNS functions could deeply challenge that goal.

Further, the DOC claims that it must renew ICANN?s contract because ?no obvious alternative exists for long-term DNS management.?

Instead of using such excuses for its irresponsible action in renewing the ICANN contract, the US government has the obligation to investigate how to create an appropriate entity to coordinate and manage the Internet?s unique identifiers in a way that serves the public interest.

A proposal submitted to the US government before the ICANN proposal was submitted, provided for the creation of a prototype to develop an international collaborative model for long-term DNS management. That proposal ?The Internet: An International Public Treasure? provides the alternative process that the US government claims it needs. It is appropriate that they begin to support the proposal so that the appropriate entity for the coordination and management of the Infrastructure for the Internet can be created to replace ICANN.

By Ronda Hauben, Author & Researcher

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