Anticipation grows as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) prepares for one of its most significant meetings, to be held in Marrakech, Morocco. The meeting will cover aspects of the ongoing heated debate over the September 30, 2006 expiration of the Memorandum of Understanding with the United States. Pressure builds as the international community favors that the authority of ICANN be relinquished to an international organization such as the United Nations for the purpose of adding diverse flavor to the corporation.
The meeting, which represents a fundamental effort on behalf of ICANN to reach and consult the global internet community, will host delegates from more than 50 countries and provide the forum to discuss the security and consistency of domain names, administration, and other disputed topics.
"The international community thinks there is a lack of transparency in ICANN when it comes to international participation, yet its policies and how it interacts can have far-reaching effects," Carla Calcagno, senior counsel at Holland & Knight, says. "They want to have elections at a larger scale so there is some involvement and input being placed by the international community and not just the U.S., which is thought to impose its cultural values on the net."
To this end, ICANN recently began seeking qualified candidates for the ICANN board of directors, Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) Council, Interim At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), and Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) Council.
Within the culturally diverse board of 19 representatives and 13 members (members have the authority to vote in ICANN elections) from the European Union, Iran, Brazil, and China, lie the hopes and persistence for each to play more influential roles in ICANN's management. "ICANN is prepared to evolve and grow, even though the organization is a democratic system which works on a unique model and, according to the United Nations and the World Summit, the model works well," Andrew Robertson, communications consultant to ICANN, says. "The outcome of what exactly will happen on September 30 is undetermined, and the decision is certainly not up to ICANN or the U.S."
As always, scrutiny and controversy look down upon ICANN with respect to the issue of governance. "As far as the internet is concerned, it is not an American property," Robertson says. "It is treated as such due to its historical development, when it was based in the U.S. It is really an international organization and the world should start regarding it as one," he adds.
Another anticipated aspect of concern at the summit will be WHOIS services. "Anyone who attains a website is supposed to list a name, phone number, and address in WHOIS of a contact person to resolve both technical problems with a site and administrative issues," Robertson says. According to ICANN, different countries have different laws regarding WHOIS. The European commissioners oppose the publication of personal data, stating that it is against their code of ethics. ICANN continues to take further steps to improve cooperation with bodies of interest.
Discussions for future top-level domains are also under consideration due to ICANN's growth in market competition. The prospect of ICANN adopting more domain names other than its three originals, .com, .net, and .org, is currently under debate. ICANN was recently urged to approve the .xxx domain but later rejected the move to set up these domains for pornography sites, under pressure from the U.S.
ICANN plans to work with key players such as the Middle East and China regarding the Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) that will provide members of the global community with access to internet domain names in their own languages. "So far the results have been positive, but a lot of work needs to be done before incorporating it into the internet," Robertson says.
Doug Wood, an attorney at the international law firm Reed Smith, asks, "the search engine is so robust now…do we really care what domain names are?" However, Wood believes that at the Morocco meeting, the ICANN/US contract will be renewed: "It would be havoc not to," he says.
(www.icann.org; www.reedsmith.com; www.hklaw.com)