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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 10:16 GMT
Net body plans shake-up
Computer, BBC
Icann president: Organisation must change or fail
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By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington
The world's governments could be given a greater say in how the internet is run.

The proposals are part of plans to restructure the body that co-ordinates the net, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann).

Public interest groups and other internet watchdogs have denounced the idea. They are concerned that it would eliminate the "at-large" Icann board members who are chosen by rank-and-file internet users.

Icann President M Stuart Lynn is proposing transforming the private, non-profit corporation into a public-private partnership, changing the structure of the board and seeking additional funding.

"If we stay on our current course, the Icann experiment is likely to fail," he told BBC News Online.

Seat at table

Icann was created in 1998 as a private, non-profit organisation. Its responsibilities include the management of new top-level domains, such as the recently created .name and .biz domains, and the establishment of trademark rules for domain names.

The dot name registrar, WWW
Icann oversaw launch of .name
It has been a lightning rod for controversy almost since its inception. Critics have charged that it is secretive, undemocratic and not representative of the broader internet community.

Icann was originally created, in part, to take over responsibilities in governing the internet that had previously been handled by governments and, in particular, the US Government.

Mr Lynn's proposal is a radical departure from the original intent of Icann. He has called the creation of a totally private model for Icann an overreaction.

He says that governments are an important and under-represented stakeholder in Icann, and that they must have a seat at the table.

US influence

Mr Lynn argues that governments are one of the most important ways to guarantee that the internet public's interests are represented.

If Icann comes to be seen, as is starting to happen in some quarters, as simply a tool of the US Government, it will no longer have any hope of accomplishing its original mission

M Stuart Lynn, Icann president
But some members of the internet community have expressed concern that the US Government would try to maintain control of the internet addressing system instead of ceding it to Icann.

However, Mr Lynn says that at the moment Icann is not ready to shoulder that responsibility. Key agreements are not in place for the transition to take place, and Mr Lynn believes that Icann is woefully under funded to accomplish this task.

However, he also said that Icann risked losing credibility internationally if the question of US Government control was not addressed.

Plan criticised

"If Icann comes to be seen, as is starting to happen in some quarters, as simply a tool of the US government, it will no longer have any hope of accomplishing its original mission," he said.

We've just had the equivalent of the president of the United States abolishing Congress

Karl Auerbach, Icann at-large board member
An ongoing and contentious debate has been how to bring the broader internet community and other public interests on board with Icann. And one of Mr Lynn's proposed reforms has done little to settle the issue of at-large board members elected directly by internet users.

Mr Lynn has recommended that the board be trimmed from 18 to 15 members. Five of these trustees would be chosen by national governments and five picked by an internally chosen "nominating committee".

The nominating committee would be made up of unbiased members who understood internet technology and the role of Icann, said Mr Lynn.

Slow process

The remaining five would be ex officio members of Icann including the group's CEO, chairs of three policy committees and the chair of the technical advisory committee.

Present at-large board members wasted little time in criticising the plan.

"We've just had the equivalent of the president of the United States abolishing Congress," said Karl Auerbach, a board member who represents internet users in North America.

The proposal increases the importance of an Icann meeting in March in Ghana, where board members are to begin considering the overhaul, though they are unlikely to make any final decisions.

See also:

15 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Net's servers under scrutiny
07 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
New domains taking hold
12 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
New net domain 'fiasco'
28 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Net body targets web security
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