Thursday, March 30, 2006

Midwives for new ICANN

By Rebecca Wanjiku

The Internet Corporation for assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has appointed a 10-man committee to discuss and give recommendations on its new role after the memorandum with the US government expires this year.

The committee is composed of big names in the Information Society and is expected to help identify characteristics of a model that will satisfy the internet community as well as governments.

“The committee will be mandated to study the environment surrounding conclusion of the MoU and advise on how issues of government and non-governmental entities can be addressed,” said Paul Twomey, ICANN president.

The strategic committee appointed under the president, has three co-chairs- ICANN board member Peter Dengate Thrush, former Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, and Twomey. ICANN board chairman Vint Cerf is an ex officio member.

Other members include; former chair of the first preparatory committee for the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Adama Samassekou, Janis Karklins, who was the chair of the second preparatory committee, Thomas Niles, and Marilyn Cade.
Twomey informer the public gathering in Wellington that two senior business figures in the United States have verbally agreed to be a members but he did not have written confirmation from their offices and he could not give their names.

But participants raised questions regarding composition of the group and what its main objective was. There were questions whether it was supposed to merely represent regions or was a diplomatic exercise actuated by the need to present ICANN as an international body.

ICANN board member Raimundo Beca questioned the composition noting that South America was not represented in the arrangement.

Cerf said the members were selected to reflect the international nature of the committee and to solicit opinions from outsiders regarding how the internet oversight body should be ran.

“The committee is expected to form additional source of information from people who don’t come to ICANN meetings. It is a multi-stakeholder structure and we tried to be as inclusive as possible,” said Twomey.

Before ICANN disengages from the US department of commerce, it is expected to fulfill requirements by ensuring that it has implemented a consensus policy regarding new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) and establish accountability frameworks with country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) e.g.,, and many others.
ICANN is also expected to execute addition MoUs with Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) describing duties of all parties. RIRs include; AFriNIC for Africa, RIPE NCC for Europe and the Middle East, ARIN for North America, LACNIC for Latin America including the Caribbean and APNIC for Asia-Pacific region.

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.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

ICANN and language

By Rebecca Wanjiku

The Internet oversight body is embarking on an ambitious project aimed at ensuring its materials and resources can be accessed in local languages all over the world.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has promised to increase availability of their newsletter and website in various languages. Currently, some materials have been translated to Kiswahili.

Though ICANN has not specified the languages it is planning to embark on, it has invited participants to scrutinise its strategic plan and raise their concerns.

The move to increase the number of languages is calculated to facilitate effective and multilingual communication and allow participating communities to interact.

“Translation will improve ability of stakeholders to participate in ICANN processes including in languages other than English,” said Kurt Pritz ICANN vice president in charge of business operations.

Kurt told participants of the meeting in Wellington that the project will create an operational policy and guidelines to steer future translation efforts.

“Translation is not an end rather a means to an end,” added Kurt.



By Rebecca Wanjiku

The last time ICANN held its meeting in Africa, there was a unanimous call for the internet oversight body to increase its outreach programs and presence in Africa.

Two years after Cape Town 2004, ICANN appointed an Egyptian, Baher Esmat as the Global partnership Liaison for Middle East, Ann-Rachel Inne from Niger as the Liaison for Africa, and will hold the next meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco.

For the North African country hosting the ICANN meeting will be a challenge as well as an opportunity to showcase their ICT prowess.

“We met the criteria set by ICANN to host meetings. We have good internet connection as well as tourist facilities,” said Hamida Benlemlih, project manager at the Moroccan telecommunication ministry.

According to Hamida, the meeting will give visitors a chance to see Morocco and witness the progress made in bridging the digital divide.

She admits that Morocco experiences a gap between the urban and rural areas in terms of ICT accessibility but notes that the government has made considerable progress. In Morocco, 4.5 million can access ICT out of a population of 32 million.


Knowing New Zealand

By Rebecca Wanjiku

What comes to your mind when you think of New Zealand? Kiwis? Rugby? Cricket? Maori? Or does it strike you like this well developed nation which is strict on importation that you cant even bring in a half chewed fruit?

Whatever you have in mind, it may be true. They are known as the kiwis, play cricket, they whip their opponents in most rugby matches and they perform the infamous haka dance after every win.

The importation laws are so strict that a Kenyan friend warned me to alert the customs officials about some candy I bought somewhere in transit. They got strict penalties for non compliance.

That may be one side of New Zealand but when it comes to Information Communication Technology, they have a different story.

They have three telecom providers but even in the conference hall, the internet connection is erratic, probably reminding one of connection in some of our countries.

The erratic connection may lead one to the question, “I thought New Zealand was way ahead in ICT development?”

No! New Zealand has some rural population that has no access to mobile phones let alone internet connection. Though the rural population is mainly the indigenous Maori, there are some white settlers too.

According to Karen Burns, a senior analyst with the government’s interoperable programme, they are working hard to ensure that the rural areas in the south and north islands is well connected with ICT.

“The government is trying to make it as easy as possible to access ICT. The government has an interconnected website where residents can access government services in one site,” said Burns.

The government has also set up special training programmes for Maori and other Pacific island residents to ensure they are well versed with technology.

According to Burns, the website is accessible in English and Maori languages and the people tasked with the online services can speak a host of other languages to make it easier for everyone.

New Zealand was originally occupied by the Maori before the British settled. A treaty was signed between the Maori and British that the locals would own land that was originally theirs, if they can prove the ancestral lineage.

This contract, Burns says, is still honoured to date though it was signed in 1840. She adds that if a person can prove that the land was unfairly taken and prove the lineage and ownership, the courts have a right to enforce it.


Monday, March 27, 2006


By Rebecca Wanjiku
Internet Corporation for assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) opened its doors to the public in Wellington with particular emphasis on using internet for cultural integration.

In his opening address, Vinton Cerf, ICANN board Chairman, invited participants to develop innovative applications to ensure internet is important to cultures as well as economic growth.

“We need new idea and new applications to create substantial growth and development,” said Cerf.

In the past, Internet has been marketed more as a tool for economic progression and less as a vehicle to preserving culture and social development.

The meeting was officially opened by Hon. David Cunliffe, the minister in charge of communication and Information Technology in New Zealand.

“The principle focus of this meeting will be how improved access to ICTs can assist in regional economic and social development,” said Cunliffe.

The meeting precedes another gathering of communication ministers from the Pacific Island Forum scheduled for March 30th 2006. Cunliffe identified the ICANN meeting as an important forum to small isolated island populations who wish to save their cultural heritage in an increasingly globalised and networked world.

The minister called all governments to participate to participate in internet issues mainly the central coordinating functions that ICANN deals with.

In his speech, he drew parallels with the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) which focused much attention on the need for better access to internet resources by developing countries.

“The New Zealand government welcomes the Tunis Agenda and especially its call for greator online participation from least developed nations,” said Cunliffe.

The thorny question of Internet governance or ownership was also addressed at the opening with Cerf insisting that ICANN does not control internet assets in any way. He maintained that there are new discoveries every day and 99 per cent of internet applications are yet to be developed.

Paul Twomey, ICANN president and Chief Executive Officer also emphasized that the organization merely coordinates various internet functions.

This meeting is expected to further discussions on development of Internationalized Domain Names (IDN), which will allow use of African languages with proper accents on the net.

The issue of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) will be discussed and is expected to shed more light on global policy and allocation.