EU Commissioner Urges US to Cut ICANN’s Umbilical Cord

The Internet is an American invention, and the governing body that assigns domain names to Web sites around the world has had its roots in the U.S. (California, no less.) However, it’s time for ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — to go “global” in every sense of the word, according to one European Union commissioner.

EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding said in a Sunday video message on her Web sitethat she hopes the 11-year-old organization will stop operating under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Commerce when its contract expires Sept. 30.

“In the long run, it is not defendable that the government department of only one country has oversight of an Internet function which is used by hundreds of millions of people in countries all over the world,” Reding said.

Steps toward ICANN privatization began during the Clinton administration, said the commissioner. “I hope that now, after some hesitations about this by the U.S. over the past eight years, President Obama will now continue the work started by the Clinton administration,” she stated.

Reding seeks more transparency, which she said can only be attained through governance modeled after that of a truly private corporation. She also wants a small, independent, international tribunal to oversee judicial review; right now, California courts have that function.

“The courts of California alone are certainly not best placed to handle legal challenges originating in all continents of the world,” Reding maintained.

The Likely Response

ICANN was set up in 1998 to counter the “Wild West” ethos then swirling through the Internet, according to Raymond Van Dyke, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of law firm Merchant & Gould.

“Now, 10 years later, the townsfolk of many different backgrounds want another sheriff — one less unilateral and more multilateral,” Van Dyke told TechNewsWorld. “I would expect that this drive to multilateralism fits with the Obama administration’s goals, and ICANN will likely be privatized.”

“Naturally, the EU and the rest of the world would like the Internet’s rules of the road [written] in multiple languages, and not just American English,” he noted.

With most of the growth of the Internet happening outside America’s borders, the EU-based committee approach might be more useful toward reaching common goals, Van Dyke said. However, the success of a new model will depend largely on ICANN’s board of directors and strong supporting organizations.

For an advisory board, Reding wants a “G-12” approach, with governments sending appointed officials to meet at least twice a year and make recommendations to ICANN. With its formal strictures, the United Nations would not be the best venue for this type of activity, she said, “since decisions on Internet governance need to be taken swiftly and efficiently most of the time.”

Toward a More Democratic ICANN?

Although Reding claimed the U.S. hasn’t moved fast enough on the privatization model in the last eight years, Van Dyke said that incremental progress at democratization was made during during the last contract negotiations in 2006.

“Various provisions were added giving ICANN more autonomy, ostensibly as a prelude to privatization due to world pressure,” he said. “It is, therefore, likely that the current contract will not be renewed, and the organization will become a for-profit enterprise.”

TechNewsWorld asked for comment from the U.S. Department of Commerce regarding Reding’s statement; a response had not been received by press time.

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