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As ICANN learns to play fair with redelegations

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Libya, Nigeria, Palestine, Chad and a dozen more...

On 9 June 2004, a six-year battle for control of the Nigerian domain name (.ng) was finally resolved. Six months earlier, the issues exploded onto the public stage with wild accusations of corruption, amid many others.

On 17 June 2004, the Occupied Palestinian Territory (.ps) was redelegated with little or no apparent fuss.

On 29 June 2004, ICANN resolved an issue over ownership of the Libyan domain (.ly) that had also been bubbling under for six years and in April this year resulted in the complete disappearance of the domain from the Internet.

Yes, in the Nigerian case, ICANN stood well back and it took the country's President to personally step in to force agreement. And, yes, in Palestine, all the bodies appear to have been in agreement, but the resolution of ongoing problems from what previously appeared to be chaos have given other countries confidence in those running the show.

The new ICANN management is not proud of the organisation's past behaviour. "How it happened in the past caused a lot of country code managers upset," Verhoef admitted. "But that situation has changed significantly. We are about to ask the ccNSO [the country code supporting organisation within ICANN] what should be going into new 'accountability frameworks'. We'll have a new approach, a new slate." Twomey promised the same thing last week when he spoke about the issue of Iraq getting control of its own domain.

Verhoef's promise that something on that process will be made public is alluded to on IANA's website at the moment. On its front page it reads: "Posting of the new delegation data procedure document has been delayed as a result of the need to include suggestions received after the public comment period closed, and subsequent internal and external review of the final draft. We anticipate that the final version will be posted by 9 July 2004."

However, ongoing redelegations will still be completed using the current system, and that means more countries signing up to ICANN "memorandum of understanding" or "sponsorship agreement" - depending on whether it is the government or a third-party running the domain. Verhoef tells us that there are now 10 to 15 ongoing redelegations going on at the moment. "Every couple of weeks, there is another one," he says.

What he omits to say is that this is probably a backlog of redelegations which have been held off because countries do not want to cede their independence to an Internet overseeing body. The new approach is getting results and countries are starting to work with ICANN rather than against it. Verhof hopes the 'accountability framework' soon to be signed by Dutch domain .nl will serve as a best practice approach in future redelegations.

ICANN is trying to extend the olive branch and has actively promoted a workshop at its forthcoming meeting in Kuala Lumpur on 24 July that will "focus on the operation and practical operational issues facing the ccTLDs". To make the message clearer, the workshop will be jointly hosted with the ITU, and both Twomey and the ITU head honcho Houlin Zhao will give opening statements.

So everything's hunky dory now?

By tackling the issue of redelegations, ICANN will pull a significant thorn out of the paws of the world's countries. But its problems are nowhere near over.

Many of the most important ccTLDs are still refusing to join the ccNSO as they don't want to give it legitimacy. Others remain unshakeable in their belief that ICANN should not be dabbling with IANA at all. It has probably raised a few eyebrows that the person awarded the .ly domain was neither of the two people publicly fighting over it, who both had some claim to the domain.

It appears instead to have be given (at least "on a limited basis") to a Libyan ISP. Mr Marwan Maghur of the General Post and Telecommunication Company (GPTC) (whose website doesn't work) has been given "provisional redelegation". Maghur has complained about the situation where a UK company was running Libyan's domain since 2001, meeting an ICANN representative over the matter, according to his own minutes.

Plus there remains the question of transparency. ICANN stresses that it cannot make public the information provided for redelegations, usually quoting commercial reasons. Large numbers of Internet users would disagree with that straight off the bat. Why, if someone wishes to take over any entire country's domain, should they not be subject to the most intense scrutiny?

And while ICANN appears to be relaxing from its previous position of informing people after the decision is made, we only know that Chad is due to be redelegated because it appeared on the ICANN's Board meeting agenda. No decision on it was made (we can see form the meeting's very brief notes, but we may never know if this was because of disagreement or lack of time.

Verhoef says that "it is not our job to inform the public at large what is going on" because it might be "misinterpreted". It certainly isn't simple. ICANN chairman Vint Cerf said recently in a interview that: "The most knotty are things like re-delegation of a top-level domain. It is amazing how complex that can get." But they're not going away and many would argue open discussion will end up being more effective than closed.

Even assuming ICANN does manage to get the redelegation issue right though, it still faces a bigger and nastier hurdle in the meantime. And that is its budget for next year, which has almost doubled, already seen a fair amount of angry criticism and looks set to provoke some more.

But more of that, and Kurt Pritz's defence of his budget in another feature very soon. ®

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