Commerce settles on a plan for Net's privatization

The Commerce Department last week told the Internet Assigned Numbers
Authority that it wants to privatize Internet oversight through IANA’s Internet
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

ICANN, recently incorporated in California, was one of four models for private control
of the Internet’s Domain Name System proposed this month to Commerce’s National
Telecommunications and Information Administration [GCN, Oct. 12, Page 61].

If IANA can resolve NTIA’s concerns about the new corporation’s openness and
accountability, NTIA will begin transferring management to ICANN in what it called a
careful but expeditious manner.

“Assuming that the concerns can be resolved satisfactorily, we would like to begin
work on a transition agreement between the United States and ICANN,” acting associate
NTIA administrator J. Beckwith Burr wrote on Oct. 20 to Herbert Schorr, director of the
University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute, which operates

Burr said in an interview that there is no timetable for defining the structure and no
requirement to go with any of the four proposals for a nonprofit corporation. The final
structure probably will contain elements from several of the proposals.

“I have no interest in moving back to Square 1,” she said.

The public comment period that ended Oct. 15 drew more than 100 comments—some of
them lengthy, some acrimonious. Although nearly everyone had a bone to pick with one or
more of the proposals, the consensus was that, like it or not, the inside track belonged

“Despite its many shortcomings, ICANN is not fatally flawed,” Craig Simon
wrote of the IANA plan. “More is to be gained by moving the process forward than by
turning the debate back.”

The Clinton administration proposed a nonprofit corporation in a June policy paper
published by NTIA. The goal was to begin privatizing Internet oversight by Sept. 30, but
current government contracts for administering addresses now have been extended until
autumn of 2000.

IANA’s late chief, Jon Postel, wrote most of the bylaws for the proposed governing
body, set up under California’s Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation Law. IANA also
proposed names of nine interim directors. Postel died suddenly this month of complications
after heart surgery.

An alternative proposal from the Boston Working Group called for slightly different
bylaws and directors to be selected by an international forum. A plan submitted by
the Open Root Server Confederation suggested more public accountability from and fiscal
restrictions on the new corporation.

Ronda Hauben, an individual who submitted comments, argued that public not private
oversight is necessary and proposed further study of the proper format.

“Privatization would be moving policy functions out of the control of government
and putting them into unaccountable hands,” Hauben told NTIA. “The whole result
of this is very dangerous for the public and the Internet.”

Burr wrote in her letter to Schorr, “As you refine your proposals, we urge you to
consult with these groups and others who commented critically on your proposals.”

The principal issues NTIA raised are:

IANA will continue the work of issuing numerical IP addresses, and Network Solutions
Inc. of Herndon, Va., will administer domain name services.

The domain name services include registering names for Internet domains that end in
.com, .org and .net, and maintaining the root server system that maps the domains to IP

Commerce extended Network Solutions’ contract to coordinate some domain name
functions through September 2000. 

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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