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Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 15:12 GMT
Net governing body slammed from within
Karl Auerbach
Dissenting Icann director Karl Auerbach in a relaxed mood
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

One of the board members of the net coordinating body Icann has called the organisation "secretive" and "undemocratic".

Karl Auerbach, Icann regional representative for North America, made his comments while testifying before a Senate subcommittee investigating the organisation.

He said the organisation needed reforming and had to be made more accountable for its actions.

The US Congress was questioning Icann staff about the way that the net body chose new domain names.

Critical situation

Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, was roundly criticised by board member Karl Auerbach during his testimony to a Senate subcommittee.

Mr Auerbach decried the organisation for its secrecy. Although board members are asked to vote on and run parts of the organisation they are not allowed to see the accounts for these divisions, he said.

He listed criticisms of Icann saying that:

  • it kept its processes hidden
  • did not justify its actions to anyone
  • did not manage projects well
  • communicated badly to its staff and the public
  • delegated too much decision-making to staff
  • and was generally badly run.

    "We know more about how the College of Cardinals in Rome elects a pope than we do about how Icann makes its decisions," said Mr Auerbach, adding that he sometimes "despaired" at the immensity of the task of reforming Icann.

    To start the process of reform, he said Icann should be made truly independent from the US government and be made publicly accountable for the way it is run and the decisions it makes. Currently Icann does not have to consult the people, organisations or businesses affected by its decisions.

    Mr Auerbach was one of five people elected in October to be regional representatives to serve on Icann's board. Mr Auerbach is the representative for North America.

    Even before he was elected Mr Auerbach was a fierce critic of Icann and he has kept up his criticism now that he has been elected to serve on the board of the net's coordinating body.

    At the Senate hearing Michael Roberts, president of Icann, said it was an "experiment" and was still "lurching" on uncharted ground.

    Tough questions

    Icann is only gradually taking over the net co-ordination work that was previously the responsibility of the US Department of Commerce.

    New domains
    .info
    .biz
    .name
    .pro
    .museum
    .aero
    .co-op

    In November last year Icann chose seven domain names that will soon be in use on the net. But the organisation has been criticised for the way it ran the selection process and the companies it picked to administer the new domain names. Icann's decision on new domain names still has to be ratified by the Department of Commerce.

    The hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee was called by Senator Conrad Burns, the Republican representative for Montana, who received several complaints about the way Icann picked new domain names.

    Last week, senior Icann staff were called before the House of Representatives to answer questions about the new domain selection process after congress members expressed misgivings about the process and the choices that Icann made.

    Icann was formed in 1998 when the net was becoming much more of a global resource rather than a US-centred network and needed a co-ordinating body free of US control. But many people are concerned that the resulting organisation is undemocratic and does a bad job of driving the development of the net.

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