New pact moves Internet body toward independence

Body will no longer be required to report regularly to the Commerce Department; government will play advisory role.

The U.S. government will play a lesser role in its oversight role of the no-profit corporation that manages multiple functions of the Internet under an agreement announced Friday.

Commerce Department oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers dates back to a 1998 agreement that was set to expire Sept. 30. On Friday, ICANN signed a new agreement that includes what it calls "major gains" in its move towards independence.

Under the deal, "ICANN will no longer have its work prescribed for it," and "how it works and what it works on is up to ICANN and its community to devise," according to an ICANN statement. The Internet-addressing body said it no longer will be required to report its activities every six months but will provide one annual report to the entire Internet community.

"There is no requirement to report regularly to [Commerce]," the statement said. "The [department] will simply meet with senior ICANN staff from time to time." However, the pact said "the department will hold regular meetings with ICANN senior management and leadership to assess progress" and will conduct a mid-term review of progress.

"Commerce has clearly signaled that multi-stakeholder management of the Internet's system of unique identifiers is the way ahead and ICANN is the obvious organization to take that responsibility," Paul Twomey, president and CEO of ICANN, said in a statement. The agreement "means ICANN is more autonomous," he said.

The department "reaffirms its policy goal of transitioning the technical coordination of the [domain-name system] to the private sector in a manner that promotes stability and security, competition, bottom-up coordination, and representation," the agreement said.

Under the accord, the U.S. government will continue to provide expertise and advice on measures that support greater transparency and accountability of ICANN. The government plans to continue consulting with managers of Internet root-name servers it operates. Commerce also plans to participate in ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee.

Some in the international community have pushed for a greater role in the underlying decisions of the Internet and called for the creation of a global Internet governance body.

Commerce has not yet issued a decision on a proposed agreement between VeriSign and ICANN that has been the subject of congressional hearings. As part of a February settlement, VeriSign's contract to operate Web addresses ending in .com would be extended to 2012, when the firm would retain a presumptive renewal right as the .com registry.

Both VeriSign and its rival, Network Solutions, applauded Friday's ICANN decision by Commerce.

VeriSign said it supports Commerce's decision because the "the public-private partnership model embodied in the agreement is the best way to ensure the continued growth and safety and security of the Internet." Network Solutions commended "this next step toward the transition of the management of the [domain-name system] to the private sector."

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