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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 05:42 GMT 06:42 UK
Net body grapples with people power
Graphic BBC
By BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida

How to make the way the internet works more democratic is being debated at a meeting in Uruguay of the group which oversees the management of the net.

The key issue is how to make the net co-ordinating body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), more accountable.

"This will be the major topic that will occupy a lot of attention" at the meeting in Montevideo from 7-10 September, said Icann president and chief executive M Stuart Lynn.

In the past, Icann has been criticised for being undemocratic, badly run and overly secretive.

Membership 'poorly managed'

Icann is proposing that holders of domain names should make up the so-called "at-large" membership which votes for who runs the organisation.


We are approaching a critical moment that will impact both Icann's legitimacy and the role of the public in the management of the internet

Alan Davidson, Center for Democracy and Technology
"To date, Icann's 'at-large' membership has been poorly organised, and there are efforts to diminish its role even further," said Alan Davidson, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an organisation which promotes greater openness in the debate over domain names.

Public interest groups say all internet users should have a greater say over Icann decisions that affect the landscape of the net.

Icann is a private, non-profit organisation based in California. Among its responsibilities are the creation of new top-level domains, establishing trademark rules for domain names and potentially influencing the cost and availability of names.

"Users who are impacted by these policies should have an opportunity to be part of the policy process," said Mr Davidson.

"We are approaching a critical moment that will impact both Icann's legitimacy and the role of the public in the management of the internet."

About 41m domain name holders

An Icann committee looking at the whole membership issue has effectively dismissed the idea of allowing everyone who uses the internet to have a say in decisions.


We found no consensus support for the position that every individual 16 years of age or older who uses the internet has an automatic right to determine Icann's leadership

Icann committee
"We found no consensus support for the position that every individual 16 years of age or older who uses the internet has an automatic right to determine Icann's leadership," said the Icann committee.

It found there were already about 41 million domain name holders. More are expected with the emergence of the new domains like .biz and .info.

Icann's current proposal would allow companies and individuals who own websites to elect six board members, with each coming from a different geographical region.

Currently, there are nine "at-large" members, five of whom were elected by the internet community last year and four of whom were appointed as members shortly after Icann was formed in late 1998.

The organisation is proposing new "at-large" member elections in 2002.

A final draft of the report is expected to be submitted during the Icann meeting in November in California.

"While the Icann board is not expected to act at this meeting, we are setting the terms of the debate this fall about the future of democratic participation in Icann's internet management function," said Mr Davidson.

See also:

28 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Name row threatens the net
19 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Money for nothing
19 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Novel net domains court controversy
02 Apr 01 | Business
Net body agrees registration rule
10 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Net name chaos grows
03 Sep 01 | Business
UN calls for web name controls
13 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Net body stamps on critics
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