VeriSign and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers recently began a court battle that could have a significant effect on the future of the Internet. VeriSign is suing ICANN, the quasi-private group that oversees the Internet, for breach of contract and antitrust violations that stem from several incidents, including ICANNs decision to shut down VeriSigns SiteFinder service last fall.
ICANN considered SiteFinder such a danger to the security of the Internet that it instructed its security committee to hold immediate emergency hearings in October. VeriSign officials argued that SiteFinder helped Internet users navigate the Web; critics claimed it would break the Internet. Rather than solving anything, however, these hearings have only reinforced the growing distrust of ICANNs objectiveness and effectiveness. Stephen Crocker, who ran these supposedly objective fact-finding hearings, began by announcing his own opposition to SiteFinder. When the hearings ended, he promised to issue a report within a month. After more than six months, we have yet to hear a peep from Crocker or see the promised report.
In March, during the round of ICANN meetings in Rome, Crocker had nothing to report on SiteFinder. Yet, ICANN CEO Paul Twomey told the Washington Internet Daily: "We are waiting for that report as well." ICANN Board Chairman Vinton Cerf offered a more novel excuse for the reports tardiness, suggesting the committee needed clerical help.
ICANNs excuses need to stop. A pattern of ineptitude and unaccountability has created a crisis of legitimacy: ICANN is under assault from many quarters within the Internet community, even from those who support ICANNs decision to intervene on SiteFinder. Today, national governments are accusing ICANN of playing politics with domain names and refusing to partner with them. Other companies are suing ICANN because of the process it uses to approve new services. Ominously, the United Nations is suggesting it might take over ICANNs role.
ICANNs ineffectiveness threatens the stability, security and growth of the Internet. ICANN must take action to preserve its legitimacy. ICANN must institute clear and consistent processes for resolving the issues over which it has jurisdiction. For example, proposed services for internationalized domain names, wait-listing and the consolidation of domain-name renewals have spent more than two years in ICANN limbo. ICANN cannot attempt to hold companies such as VeriSign accountable while it shirks its own responsibilities. The future of the Internet requires a strong and legitimate ICANN. The first step to that legitimacy is the publication of its long-awaited report.
Jonathan Zuck is president of the Association for Competitive Technology, a national education and advocacy group for the technology industry, in Washington. ACT has more than 3,000 members, including VeriSign. Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.