ICANN to tackle transparency, top level domains

ICANN opened its 29th International Public Meeting Monday with a full slate of critical issues on the agenda

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers opened a week-long meeting on Monday where it will address critical issues like new generic top level domains, internationalized domain names and the organization's efforts to become more accountable and transparent.

The international public meeting, the second of three of its kind ICANN has planned for this year, will also include discussions about a major expansion of available Internet Protocol addresses, as well as about the process for accrediting registrars.

Taking advantage of the meeting's venue in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the agenda also includes the first General Assembly of the Latin American and Caribbean Regional At Large Organization, formed in March.

"We're very pleased to be in Puerto Rico," said Paul Twomey, ICANN's president and CEO, during a press conference at the Caribe Hilton hotel, adding that the meeting's agenda is full of significant issues and efforts.

ICANN oversees the Internet's address system and as such carries the critical responsibility of ensuring the overall security and stability of the Internet.

A key effort ICANN is involved with is improving the transparency of its operations and the accountability of its decisions, areas critics regularly complain about. "We must ensure we're in the leading edge of transparency and accountability," Twomey said.

ICANN commissioned an independent study about its transparency and accountability in December from London's One World Trust, which reported its findings in March. It concluded that ICANN is a very transparent organization but that it can improve certain areas, including explaining better how it uses input from stakeholders when making decisions.

ICANN has been taking steps to address these issues and, earlier this month, issued a response to the report.

On Saturday, ICANN released for discussion at the San Juan meeting online a set of draft principles and frameworks for accountability.

ICANN wants to improve making it easier for people to find the vast amount of information on its Web site, Twomey said. ICANN also wants to be faster in posting information online about its meetings and initiatives, he said.

However, the transparency and accountability issue will likely remain on the table until ICANN removes its special ties to the U.S. government. Since its creation in 1998 to progressively absorb Internet management functions until then handled fully by the U.S. government, ICANN has been criticized for lacking transparency in its decision-making process and for responding disproportionately to U.S. interests.

In September, the memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Commerce Department and ICANN was renewed for three additional years, a disappointment for those who had hoped for ICANN's full autonomy.

During the meeting's opening session, a Commerce Department representative commended ICANN for its progress in transparency and accountability, but said more improvement is needed.

"ICANN still has a long way to go to ensure and institutionalize these principles in its processes and procedures," said Meredith Attwell Baker, deputy assistant secretary for communications and information of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Also in this week's agenda is the Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) initiative, which aims to revamp the DNS (domain name system) so that it can support domain names in a broad range of languages and alphabets that can't be represented via the ASCII character set.

"You'd think this would be simple. It has turned out to be really hard, technically," said Vint Cerf, ICANN's chairman.

Another initiative on deck for discussion is the drafting of a policy to introduce new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to add to the well-known ones like .com and .net. Like the IDN effort, this gTLD project has run into technical challenges.

The meeting will also feature a tutorial on the IPv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6) effort to expand significantly the amount of IP addresses, because of the expected shortage under the current IPv4, Cerf said.

The San Juan meeting, ICANN's 29th International Public Meeting, ends Friday and will feature more than 30 sessions and workshops.

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