ICANN Again Under Fire

Infighting at the Internet's most powerful governing body earns the attention of the feds.

After years of bickering within ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the U.S. federal government has taken the first step toward cleaning up the embattled group, which is tasked with managing and assigning domain names and IP addresses.

In a March 6 letter to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana) called for a congressional hearing on ICANN, calling the organization "fundamentally flawed and ineffective" and asking "whether ICANN is even the most appropriate organization to be tasked with such a critical mission, which is central to our national security." (However, at press time, no hearing had been set.)

The heat comes at a time when ICANN itself is experiencing unprecedented infighting, brought to a boil by a scathing report issued on February 24 by M. Stuart Lynn, the current president of ICANN, questioning his own organizations ability to meet its stated objectives. His report echoes Burnss sentiment, saying, "On its present course, ICANN cannot accomplish its assigned mission" and calling the organization "flawed from the beginning."

Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (D-Louisiana), chairman of the Commerce Committee, yesterday issued a letter of his own, asking the Department of Commerce to increase its control over Internet policy and lambasting ICANN for its "lack of transparency, due process, and accountability."

Today, on the final day of its quarterly meeting—this time held in Accra, Ghana—ICANN resolved to investigate greater "at-large" membership, addressing the long-standing criticism that the group is too insulated from the Net-going public. But the move is likely too little, too late. And legislators even seem to feel that Lynns February proposal, which purports to encourage such membership, will have the opposite effect.

An ICANN spokesperson was unavailable for comment.