ICANN Needs New Priorities

ICANN must update its priorities.

Military historians have long looked to carthage for examples of the power of decisive action and unconventional methods. So its fitting that the Tunisian city was the site of what Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf called an overdue move to "substantive issues" for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

But while the agenda for the Internet governing body remains full, action in the North African city has thus far been limited to organizational shuffling, with the naming of new officers and a recitation of the known problems facing the Net. Bureaucracy and secrecy have long been the organizations strong suits, but if this is truly to be a fresh start, or, as Cerf and others have claimed, "ICANN 3.0," it will have to openly tackle the technical issues affecting stability and security on the Internet.

The foremost concern for ICANN should be the glacial movement toward IPv6. Updating a protocol that is older than most Internet users by quite a bit is vital for guaranteeing address space and ensuring stability. While few on the exclusive ICANN board quarrel with IPv6, the issue is getting merely equal time with less important fare such as the disclosure of Web operator home phone numbers on the WHOIS database. Meanwhile, industry and the federal government are committing in increasing numbers to IPv6 with the hope that the Nets main gatekeepers will use their responsibility to ensure a smooth transition.

The organization needs to move beyond the disputes about authority and openness that have kept ICANN from this important mission of blessing standards and setting forward-looking policy.

One area where ICANN made recent progress is the so-called wildcard redirection service implemented by VeriSign. While the service has been disconnected as a result of ICANNs push-back, VeriSign officials have made it clear redirection isnt gone forever. Since the wildcard redirects wreak havoc with spam filters and other administration tools and generally threaten Net stability, ICANN will need a better response than merely asking for 60 days notice from VeriSign. The issue got much talk but little action in Carthage last week. Internet security and stability are ICANNs charter, and the wildcard service has to go no matter how many dubious consumer surveys VeriSign delivers.

Earlier this fall, ICANN won a reprieve from critics who called for its disbanding. The Bush administration gave ICANN another three years of sway over the Internet, provided that it improve the way it tackles pressing technical issues, handles its organizational affairs and accepts input from the public. Clearly, five years into its existence, ICANN still wrestles with its role of making policy for other groups technologies. Recognizing that some dispute is inevitable with every Internet decision, ICANN must become more adept at gathering consensus and moving on.

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