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What does Nominet make of it?

Dr Willie Black has been working with the Internet since its inception and has been a main figure throughout all that time. He was the head of ccTLD body Council oF European National Top-Level Domain Registries (Centr) until June last year and remains executive chairman of Nominet, the company that runs the .uk domains - the second largest ccTLD to Germany in size. He is also a consistent and resolute critic of some of ICANN's policies and decisions.

However, he confirmed that Nominet has had several productive and positive meetings with ICANN, with another one due in May. He also informed us that ICANN had met with the whole Nominet board in a constructive effort to sort out their differences - a significant change to the pre-Twomey ivory tower approach.

Nevertheless there remain several issues. "I don't want to go into the wording of the bylaws - I'll leave that to the lawyers - but instead of saying that it [ICANN] will not impose itself, why not just reflect that in the text?"

ICANN has been consistently guilty in the past of saying one thing and doing another to that extent that Nominet wants to see it in writing before signing up to anything. Apart from that, there are two barriers in the way of the UK and Germany signing up to ccNSO (and thereby ensuring acceptance of ICANN by other smaller ccTLDs).

The first is accountability. ICANN's funding and accounts has been a matter of some controversy for years. Particularly who pays what in and why, and where it goes. Aside from transparency issues, Dr Black doesn't think it fair that funds paid by Nominet to ICANN for running the Internet should be eaten up in, for example, the current legal battle it is having with the company that runs the .com and .net domains, VeriSign.

The second barrier is the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function. Dr Black says he would be happy to pay for an independent IANA service that manages the Internet roots.

Heart of Internet governance

This is the core problem at the heart of Internet governance. ICANN is determined not to hand over control of IANA because it is effectively control over the Internet. There has been huge controversy surrounding the change of just a few numbers that will see all requests for certain Internet domains sent to a completely different server. Some countries have complained of excessively delayed changes while others have been afforded changes, following limited consultation, and not coincidentally, then signed up to accept ICANN authority.

ICANN will not hand over its Ace and other countries will not tolerate ICANN - and by one remove, the US government - having control over their entire country's Internet infrastructure. A recent example of how this system could break down was when the entire Libyan Internet disappeared for three days because of a dispute between two men who each claimed to have authority over the top-level domain.

Another worrying example was when the Afghanistan TLD was handed over to the US-backed interim authority after a letter allegedly signed by the domain's previous administrator was produced. In both cases IANA was not to blame but it did possess the power to decide what to do - or not to do.

This is the stalemate that everyone is trying to break, and which Mr Liikanen was referring to. It is also why Dr Black says that "so far, Nominet is not minded to join ccNSO".

Nevertheless, change is in the air and "positive discussions" are a world away from the situation just a year ago. There are also new ICANN directors drawn from a wider pool including, on the UK side, Tricia Drakes - chair of the English Internet Society. Dr Black says he is waiting to see if the apparent change in ICANN attitude is reflected in deeds as well as words. ICANN is talking of reaching compromises and understanding perspectives.

And the EC is telling them to get a move on before the rest of the world grows sick of the argument. The UN committee into Internet governance will be reporting in Tunis on 16 November 2005. If agreement isn't reached before then, all hell will break loose and ICANN could become no more than a historical oddity. ®

Related sites

Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)
Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs)
International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO)
Nominet
Council oF European National Top-Level Domain Registries (Centr)
Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA)

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