ICANN Plays Down U.S. Influence

Responding to criticism from other governments, the Internet naming organization begins initiatives to show openness to global input.

The company distributing many of the worlds Internet addresses is taking more steps this week to fend off criticism that it gives the U.S. government too much control over its operations.

But it remains to be seen if critics will be mollified by the initiatives coming from this weeks meetings of ICANN (the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

ICANN has a long way to go toward soothing what are old wounds. Since its inception, ICANN has been under fire for supposedly letting the U.S. government influence what is meant to be an unbiased global policy maker and arbiter.

Much of the finger-pointing is over the role the U.S. Department of Commerce is allowed to play in ICANNs operations, and that ICANN is based in the United States.

"Although ICANNs governance structure includes a degree of international representation, it is ultimately under the control of the Department of Commerce," wrote Andrew Undergrove, an attorney and noted ICANN watcher.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about challenges to ICANNs status.

For instance, in August, many countries werent happy about a proposal to have porn sites Web addresses end in .xxx, rather than .com. But only one government, the United States, was able to actually intercede and eventually scuttle the plan, even though the plan had ICANNs backing.

The supposed U.S. bias issue crystallized a few weeks ago at a United Nations-sponsored Internet summit in Tunis, Tunisia. At the summit, an advisory body was created to channel opinion from world leaders directly to ICANN. This weeks ICANN meeting is its first since the Tunis event.

"Clearly, there areas where we are looking to ensure that governments get high-level input on public policy initiatives," ICANN Chief Executive Paul Twomey said Thursday. "In general, theres the sprit of wanting to build on conclusions in Tunis."

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead political columnist Chris Nolans commentary here on the international battle to control ICANN.

But, as is typical for any entity answering in part to the public, changes will take time to implement.

For instance, earlier this week, ICANNs board devised reforms meant to address the issues raised at the Tunis summit, which involves actually creating a process by which ICANN can formally accept such input.

But those plans must go through a thorough and time-consuming review process. Initial feedback comes later this week, Twomey said.

There will be also more substantive events that could help ICANN shed its United-States-centric image.

ICANNs board of directors appears to favor a proposal for a new set of Internet addresses that end in .Asia, which would more easily identify Asia-focused Web sites. Approval of the new top-level domain could come during the ICANN board of directors meeting on Sunday.

One other major development this week involves progress toward allowing the use of non-English language characters when steering a Web browser to a particular site. ICANN is now exploring a proposal to open Web browsers up to dozens of the worlds other alphabets. Actual tests of just such a system are now in the works, Twomey said.

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