ICANN leaves ordinary surfer high and dry

By : |June 29, 2002 0



Bernhard Warner

BUCHAREST: The group that oversees the Internet’s name system voted on Friday
to exclude ordinary Web surfers from its board in a move which critics say
allows mainstream interests to tighten their grip on the online world.

ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers,
unanimously passed the resolution at its quarterly meeting, clearing one of the
most controversial issues in the development of the four-year-old organization.

Under a radical new system, the online election of individual Internet users
to the group’s executive board has been abolished.

Instead, the 19-member board of directors will be drawn from representatives
of technical, business, government and non-profit organizations. It will have
ultimate say over future policy matters that govern the fundamental domain name
system for the Internet.

ICANN, a non-profit group, oversees the process of doling out domain names
with suffices such as .com to businesses and individuals. Its chief executive
Stuart Lynn said the vote was an important step for the global body as it would
demonstrate to lawmakers that ICANN is committed to reform. ICANN has also faced
criticism that it is overly influenced by American groups.

People power
Some ICANN members questioned the move. Youn Jung Park, a member of the
non-commercial domain name holders group from South Korea, called the decision
to exclude the Internet community at large an "unsatisfactory
development."

"The Internet is supposed to be about people power," she said,
acknowledging there are problems finding participants to represent an Internet
community that exceeds 425 million active users globally.

ICANN has also suggested a controversial 25-US cent tax on all new domain
name registrations to boost funding. Critics have called the new funding and the
abolition of online elections a case of "taxation without
representation."

Lynn rejected that criticism, saying individual Net users would be
represented by a number of board member constituencies, including politicians
and community groups. The board also sought to address a criticism that has
dogged ICANN since its inception in 1998: the perception that American members
have a disproportionate influence.

"This is a California-based company and most of the staff are from the
US," said German board member Andy Mueller-Maguhn. "I don’t think
that’s necessarily bad, but I also don’t think it represents the cultural
diversity it should."

ICANN, created to assume control of the Internet’s domain name system from
the US government, has been accused of favouring US business and political
interests in the past. Those concerns were re-ignited earlier this month when US
lawmakers vowed to step up supervision of ICANN before it commits to fully
turning over the domain name system to ICANN and its international members.

The board said a reformed ICANN would work to include input from the
lesser-developed Net regions, including Africa and the Middle East. In a
separate vote, ICANN approved the introduction of a 30-day grace period, giving
current domain name owners extra time to renew their domain name contracts to
prevent it falling into the hands of speculators.

A separate measure to introduce a waiting list for coveted domain names is on
track for approval later this summer.

(C) Reuters Limited.

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