Thursday, February 17, 2005

Asia/Pacific Consensus on ICANN

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A draft summary of the now concluded IGOVAP forum on Internet Governance has the following to say about ICANN:

ICANN was of course discussed in relation to the root servers and IP addresses. ICANN was described as an organization that was out-of-date: some considered it to be under control of the US Department of Commerce, and so not an appropriate entity to be controlling aspects of a network which has become a global resource. A perception of bias towards US organizations in IP address allocation has already been mentioned. ICANN's control over editing of the content of the root zone file --the database that contains information about all ccTLDs and gTLDs -- meant that it had the power to remove a country's record from the root and therefore delete it from the Internet.

As we move towards Next Generation Networks, some considered that traditional Internet organizations such as ICANN will become less important than intergovernmental bodies such as the ITU where standards for these networks are developed and the major communications companies gather. Developing nations have a well-established presence in the ITU.

In response to these comments it was recognised that ICANN does have a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Department of Commerce to perform its functions, but the MoU does not invoke the degree of control that some suggested. However, control of the content of the root zone file is widely viewed as a problem, although it is the Department ofCommerce not ICANN that has the final decision on the contents of the file, and also on who is designated to manage any TLD, including countrycode TLD. This issue was not discussed on the list, but it is well understood from discussion in WSIS that many countries, not just those in the Asia Pacific region, are concerned about this matter and it is a topic that will continue to feature prominently in Internet governance debates.

Some felt that ICANN excluded developing nations from its processes. There was no in-depth discussion of this as a specific issue. However, the view was expressed that while participation in all technical and policy processes is difficult and expensive, ccTLD operators in particular must make involvement on ICANN a priority, it is too important for them to ignore.

There was discussion about a more general statement that the international community should involve developing nations more in ICT policy-making and Internet governance, and that equality of participation in ICT policy making was important in fighting the digital divide. Some, particularly from technical backgrounds had reservations about this statement, saying that a level of technical and ICT development was necessary before meaningful participation could be achieved. It seems that this view might have been the case if applied to the Internet when it was still mainly an R&D network. But today it is far too important a factor in all aspects of society and has policy implications so great that technical and policy capacity building must go hand in hand.

Discussion about ICANN also brought to light some misunderstandings about the domain name system generally. Some considered ICANN to be the global regulatory of the DNS, with associated powers of a regulator controlling root servers IP address and all TLDs. People had misconceptions about the root server system and other factual matters. This should be a concern as effective policy discussions cannot be held based on misconceptions. Part of the role of the Forum and the broader ORDIG initiative should be to provide a solid factual basis for understanding of Internet governance and ICT policy issues.

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