Thursday, March 30, 2006

What is ICANN?

By Rebecca Wanjiku
What is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number (ICANN)?
To some, it is the Internet oversight body, to others; it is an organisation that champions ideals of the US government others know that it deals with technical stuff while others have no idea what all this hullabaloo about ICANN is all about.

Well, in whatever way you define it, ICANN affects our lives today and will continue doing so as long as we are in this information super highway.

Its major responsibility falls under the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). This service ensures that business runs smoothly on the internet and is well prepared in case of any physical or business disruption. It is in IANA that ICANN regulates the internet registries, registrars. There are other organs of ICANN such as Government Advisory Committee (GAC), but dealing with IANA functions makes it easier to understand.

Through IANA, ICANN determines who runs the dot net domain, dot org or dot com. Dot com and dot net domains are ran by an American firm- VeriSign- which has been subject of discussion in many internet related forums.

The main subject in the forums has been the recent settlement was a culmination of a protracted legal tussle between ICANN and the company. The settlement allows VeriSign to increase the cost of domain names and it is presumed that the contract to run the domain names will be automatically renewed when it expires.

The decision to settle did not augur well with stakeholders who saw it as a way to extend the monopoly enjoyed by US organisation. The feeling was well demonstrated during the bid to run dot net domain name, which was won by VeriSign.

“All stakeholders who responded in the public forum were against this settlement. The bottom-up approach assumed by ICANN could not have reached this decision. The reasons given by the board for the decision are not sufficient,” summed Collin Jackson, from New Zealand. He was addressing the board during the public forum.

Elliot Noss from Canada had a complaint against ICANN staff for failing to supply him with documents supplied by VeriSign in support of their proposal and the documents supplied by board members before they decided to settle.

“The staff has a duty to be transparent, we had no idea of what was going on,” added Noss.

In short, those who attend ICANN meetings come to represent their interests. Nobody cares whether Africa is represented or not. If any help or any consideration is needed, governments, regions and entities such as businesses form a caucus and champion their rights.

Africa has minimal representation and though it has two members on the board-Mouhamet Diop from Senegal and Njeri Rionge from Kenya- there is no critical mass to identify what interventions are needed.

For instance, to ensure that pornographic sites are not given the freedom to operate under dot XXX domain name, some opposing governments made sure their voices are well articulated under GAC.

Simply, that is how business is conducted at ICANN meetings, you got an issue, and you have to make it heard! This is not World Bank or International Monetary Fund so for any change, human and material resources have to be pulled together and there has to be tangible results.