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ICANN: one in, four out, more TLD controversy

Another day in the life of the Internet body

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A rolling stone gathers no moss and ICANN, the governing body for domain names, is trying hard to get rolling again.

On Tuesday, it announced a new president and CEO in the form of "British-born" Dr M. Stuart Lynn (what's the "M" stand for? We don't know). Stu has a hefty computing background and will start on March 13. He has been selected from a hot list of 300, so the official press release says. The real reason he's been chosen is because he's a fence-sitter.

He doesn't come out on the side of the old skool (secretive, suspected of underhand dealings) or the new kids (open, after a freer Internet). His selection is a sign that ICANN's directors want to preserve the status quo, but also that the continued criticism of the organisation has opened their eyes a little.

In the same way that there were crocodile tears for Esther Dyson when she left ICANN's chair in November, not many will be upset to see the current CEO Mike Roberts go. And, in a positive sign for the future of ICANN, Dyson's successor Vint Cerf was as clear as he could be over the situation behind the appointment. "Dr. Lynn will bring the energy, experience and skills needed to forge consensus from the diversity of Internet constituencies that have interest in ICANN and its work," he said.

The company is also bigging up Stu's geek credentials as techies have been among the most fervent critics of ICANN's policies.

Unfortunately, this positive action comes just before the official announcement of a "comprehensive study" into the At Large membership of ICANN. "At large" doesn't sound very exciting, doesn't it? In fact, it's the sort of thing that could easily be cut down without any problems, dontcha think? However, we prefer to call the (current) nine directors the "democratically elected representatives of the Internet community". Call us crazy.

If you remember, these were the people voted onto ICANN's panel by people that actually use the Internet. And would you believe it but people voted for the ones that had Internet users' best interests at heart and vowed to remove corruption and dodgy dealing where they found it. Of course, the only thing the self-satisfying existing directors could do was to bar them from meetings and make important decisions without them being present. Until now.

The "study" is essentially a way of justifying removing the number of "at-large" members from nine to five, flipping the balance of power in ICANN to industry-selected directors instead of the previous equilibrium with a casting CEO vote. The At Large Membership Study Committee will be chaired by former prime minister of Sweden and UN envoy Carl Bildt. He will head a nine-member committee to "make recommendations" as to the future make-up of ICANN.

We haven't had time to check out everyone of the committee and see where their opinions lie, but we'll have a look soon. We reckon it will ask for a reduction of nine to five members. And would you believe it but the report is due to come out at the last ICANN meeting - when Mike Roberts is still CEO.

All these shenanigans are only buying time though. People have grown sick and tired of ICANN's two-faced attitude and self-aggrandisement and the formal complaints have started. In November, a group of public interest groups, calling itself the Domain Name Rights Coalition, sent a strongly worded letter to ICANN and press groups complaining over the At Large study.

This month, the American Civil Liberties Union has written to the US Department of Commerce questioning ICANN extremely dodgy selection of global top-level domains. And the people behind the .biz domain (told they weren't good enough) and .web domain (told the .web wasn't happening) are not too pleased either.

Just this morning, the people behind .tv domains - who are currently trying to make a name for themselves on the Internet - also put out a press release claiming some credit from the intended US Congress reviews into ICANN's gTLD selection procedure.

It may be that ole Mikey Roberts got out just in time. And he's so forgetful, he might forget to pack his poisoned chalice with him when he leaves. ®

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