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November 26, 1998

ICANN WINS GOVT CONTRACT TO BEGIN PRIVATIZATION OF DNS

By CBR Staff Writer

After funding the internet’s infrastructure for almost 30 years, and after more than three years of intense wrangling within the internet community, the US government is finally satisfied that the internet industry is capable of running the domain name and numbering system itself and will begin the formal hand-over in a ceremony on Monday in Washington, DC. The non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which redrafted its bylaws again earlier this week, signed a memorandum of understanding late Wednesday with the Department of Commerce (DoC) for collaboration on the design, development and testing of a system to manage domains names, IP address allocation and the management of the root server. Becky Burr the associate administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) within the DoC says this does not replace the agreement that remains in place with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which runs until the end of the year. ICANN grew out of IANA and numerous discussions in the internet community over the past couple of years – both face to face and online. Earlier this week ICANN redrafted its bylaws following complaints lodged at a public meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts and by the DoC, which is the lead government agency on this issue. ICANN altered its rules, to allow for more transparency of its operation, and tried to mitigate against the possibility of the technical supporting organization having too much power. That has satisfied the US government and Burr says she is happy with the revision they have made. But the changes did not go down particularly well in the community, with many parties complaining that they were largely cosmetic. Two issues in particular are worrying the community. ICANN’s board meetings will not be open, as many have requested. Instead, an open public meeting will be held immediately prior to the board meeting, of which there will be one a quarter. And the role of the three proposed supporting organizations (SOs) is causing concern. Under the changes, the SOs, which will form policy for ICANN and will pick nine of the proposed 19 board members between them, will have to convince a majority of the board aside from its three nominated board members. The interim board comprising nine members headed by chairman Esther Dyson will serve for anything between a year and two, stepping down by September 30 2000 at the very latest. Another of its key tasks, apart from the allocation of Sos, is the adoption of some sort of membership scheme so the members can elect the future board members. The memorandum lasts until September 2000 but could be extended. It calls for ICANN to fund some aspects of the operation from seed money gathered from the industry. It also includes guidelines for new domain name registries, formation of advisory committees, development of conflict of interest policies, adoption of an at-large membership structure, board meetings and so on. It estimates it will cost between $750,000 and $1m over six months. The DoC will offer up to $350,000 over the same period to cover consultations with foreign governments and institutions and other staff and travel costs, but there will be no cross-funding between ICANN and the government. All the ICANN staff were traveling, or at the public meeting it was holding in Brussels on Wednesday.

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