BRUSSELS, 25 November 1998 - Responding to the increasingly global nature of the Internet, the US government recently decided to transfer responsibility of the Internet's core standards and technical administration from the incumbent Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which is acting under US Government contract, to a new, membership-based multinational body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN announced today that it has been advised by the U.S. Government that the Government will shortly enter into a memorandum of understanding pursuant to which ICANN will become responsible for matters referenced in ICANN's incorporating documents. An announcement is expected on Monday.
Representatives of industry, business and the different European communities of Internet users met the Initial Board of ICANN today in Brussels at a gathering hosted by the European Commission to explore the ways in which the management of the Internet's technical foundations will evolve.
ICANN, a private, international non-profit corporation, is hoping to administer the policies and technical protocols that let Internet communications be routed to the correct place anywhere on the globe. Its proposed duties include those now performed by IANA, which include managing the Domain Name System, or DNS.
"The purpose of ICANN is to operate as a world-wide, consensual non-governmental body to replace the primarily American arrangements under which the Internet's standards and protocols have hitherto been managed", said Ms Esther Dyson, ICANN's Interim Chairman.
"I am glad we had this opportunity to discuss issues with European Internet users and stakeholders", said Ms Dyson. "We want to be a truly global organisation. Our immediate aim is to ensure ICANN reflects the needs and wishes of the many Internet communities wherever on this planet they might be. Today's meeting was a necessary step to ensure ICANN can truly meet this aspiration".
With its new bylaws, ICANN is a fully accountable corporation, answerable through a Board that will be elected by a broad membership acting through four different membership pools representing the many different Internet communities around the globe.
Accountability and continuity are reflected in ICANN's design: the job of its Initial Board, including Interim President and CEO, Michael Roberts, is to set up the permanent structures that will allow ICANN to set policies responsibly and with the full participation of all interested parties. Reflecting their architect's jobs, the Initial Board including the Interim President will depart once ICANN is built. In the words of Hans Kraaijenbrink, the Dutch ICANN Initial Board Member, "we are setting up structures. [Our constituencies] will have to suggest policies".
Today's meeting, the second in a series that started in Massachusetts on 14 November and will continue in Asia in March 1999, had one overriding aim, according to Ms Dyson. "Our first step is to start communicating with the different Internet communities. We need to get three things done - for the Board to get to know the communities and vice-versa, to learn about the issues we as a Board will be facing and to generate concrete proposals about key issues. We hope to gain people's trust by the way we go about this - openly and interactively".
The latter is a crucial point. ICANN's membership pools comprise four different groups. One represents the Internet's end users, while the three others, known as Supporting Organisations (SO), are best thought of as functional constituencies representing addressing (the numbers, like 188.8.131.52, which software translates into domain names that humans can remember, like www.icann.org), domain names (the system of names, especially the top-level domain suffixes such as .com, .org, or .net), and protocols (the grammar that lets computers running under many different standards talk to each other).
"Our key governance issue is how to be truly responsive and transparent to a global community of users numbering in the hundreds of millions", said Ms Dyson. "The supporting organisations will have to create themselves - and convince the Board that they are truly representative of their communities. Only then can they be recognised by the Board as ICANN Supporting Organisations." A formal call to submit proposals for the creation of SOs will be made in mid-December.
The pressures generated on the current DNS system by the explosive commercial growth of the Internet are huge. "Domain Names are the hottest issue we face", said Mr Kraaijenbrink. "It is a potential time-bomb because commercial pressures may conflict with stability".
The solution, Ms Dyson said, was for all user constituencies to come up with a DNSO that is responsive to these conflicting interests. "We have no positions [on domain name issues]", said Mr Triana, an Initial Board member from Spain. "It will be up to a DNSO to suggest policies".
The latest iteration of ICANN's bylaws, submitted to the U.S. Department of Commerce on Monday, will ensure that, whatever policies are suggested, they will satisfy the majority of Internet stakeholders. Each SO will nominate three Directors to the ICANN Board.
In Europe, the American nature of the arrangements under which ICANN predecessor IANA and Network Solutions, Inc. have hitherto coordinated most of the global Internet have long been a source of concern. On 4 November, for example, Commissioner Martin Bangemann wrote to U.S. Secretary of Commerce William Daley announcing a Commission review of the U.S. Government agreement with Network Solutions, Inc. on competition grounds. The Commission has thus expressed satisfaction at the moves to establish an international Internet governance system. "The Commission welcomes the progress that has been made", said Christopher Wilkinson, an official with the directorate-general in charge of telecommunications. "Member states and the private sector had already expressed widespread support for the new arrangements to us". Ms Dyson said that it was part of her Board's job to be "truly responsive to European positions, along with those of the rest of the world". This is reflected in the composition of ICANN's Initial Board, which includes three Europeans.
Biographies of all ICANN Interim Board Members and the ICANN bylaws are available at www.icann.org.
For further information, please contact
Esther Dyson, tel 1 (212) 924-8800
Patrick Worms, tel (+32-2) 545 6609