Consumers To Serve on Domain Name Board

The Center for Democracy and Technology, Common Cause, and the American Library Association have launched a campaign to raise public interest in an election designed to ensure that individual Web users are not overwhelmed by government and corporate interests when it comes to governance of the Internet.

The upcoming election will fill five new seats on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) board of directors. ICANN is the organization appointed by the Clinton Administration to take over the domain name system and other Internet issues.

Call to Action

“The ICANN board will be making decisions on issues that affect many everyday Internet users, such as the resolution of domain name registration,” said Jerry Berman, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology. “All Internet users should exercise their right to vote, to make sure that ICANN’s decisions are in the greater Internet’s best interests.”

ICANN is scheduled to hold elections in late September for five at-large positions on its board of directors. Nominations for the ballot must be completed by August 20th. The 13 other directors on the board have already been selected by the private, business and nonprofit members that make up ICANN.

The Center for Democracy and Technology is a nonprofit group with expertise in law, technology and public policy, working to promote democratic values and constitutional liberties in the digital age.

Under Fire

The Marina del Rey, California-based ICANN has been under fire since it was formed in 1998 to take charge of the domain name system, which was previously administered by the U.S. government.

The three advocacy groups are coordinating the voter registration and education campaign, though they are far from convinced that ICANN will succeed as an international governing body.

“We need to see whether ICANN…can function as a legitimate body serving the public interest,” said Common Cause president Scott Harshbarger. “This is showtime for ICANN. Will Internet users show up?”

At-Large Requirements

Anyone over 16 years old with an Internet address and verifiable postal address can become an at-large member of ICANN. Nominations to the board can be made by members of the public as well as board members. Self-nominations will be allowed, with procedures to be determined at the July 16th ICANN board meeting.

ICANN officials say more than 20,000 people, mostly from North America and Europe, have already registered to vote in the ICANN worldwide elections. Those who register by July 31st will be eligible to vote.

“Management of this important worldwide resource is too important to leave to a body that is not accountable to anyone,” Harshbarger said.

Though ICANN is independent of the government, it remains under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Struggle for Legitimacy

ICANN has struggled for international recognition since its inception. For example, the Council of European National Top-Level Domain Registries — the European coalition that runs 30 country-code domain names — refused to pay nearly $1 million (US$) in bills presented by ICANN. However, the group did agree to make partial payment in order to make sure ICANN would have enough funding to get through the year.

ICANN has faced trouble at home as well. Its first year of existence was marked by battles with Network Solutions over domain name control before a resolution was finally reached allowing for more than one registry.

Network Solutions is the private company that held an exclusive government contract to register Internet addresses in the popular domains .com, .net and .org before ICANN was established.

ICANN has also been sued by a New York company whose application to become an accredited primary registrar was denied.

Lucrative Industry

The area of Internet domain names is becoming increasingly lucrative. Last year, the name “Business.com” sold for $7.5 million, and Bank of America confirmed it paid $3 million for the name “Loans.com.”

Industry analysts have said good domain names can reduce advertising costs substantially. There are several online markets, such as Hitdomains.com, where people can buy, sell and appraise used domain names. Such names as “GetRich.com” and “TheDotComBusiness.com” are on the auction block.

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