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Will the internet die in September?

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ICANN Marrakech There will be much to discuss at ICANN's Marrakech meeting which kicks off this Saturday, but one question rises about all others: what will happen to the internet on 30 September 2006?

ICANN has its own agenda to discuss, but that agenda and what people actually want to discuss are a little different. As is the fundamental issue that everyone at that meeting should be talking about. This is our account of what is likely to happen, why, and what it all means.

First off, here are the specific items on the ICANN check list:

Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs)
Otherwise known as the rest of the world being allowed the internet in their own language. This is one of the most fundamental areas for the future of the net, and one ICANN has failed to date. But, give it its due, the whole WSIS (World Summit on International Society) process had seen ICANN get its act together and it has been running IDN workshops every meeting for the past four meetings. Plus, in Vancouver, ICANN CEO Paul Twomey announced a Presidential Committee for IDNs. I just hope this time something real and tangible comes out of it. If it's just another three hour discussion about how "we can't get it to work", and "it's more complicated that you think", we might as well just split up the internet right now.

Countries signing up to ICANN
This is a big deal for ICANN: ccTLDs (country-code top-level domains) saying, okay then, we acknowledge that ICANN is in a position of authority. Following the German agreement - which has been very carefully worded not to have any legal tie-ins - other countries have also run to sign up: Latvia (or possibly Lithunania), Christmas Island, Norfolk Island and - amazingly - Namibia. Is Eberhard Lisse still in charge of .na? This gives ICANN a certain level of legitimacy that it has been sorely lacking. The real turning point will be when/if the UK's Nominet signs up.

Enhanced co-operation
This is a big issue, and a lot of time will be devoted to governments reaching agreement over how they are going to have a bigger say in how ICANN functions. It is absolutely vital that ICANN is able to announce a plan before its Memorandum of Understanding with the US government is renewed in September - it will be its only real defence when the Bush administration insists on retaining control. What is very, very annoying is that all of this will, as ever, be done behind closed doors.

Whois
ICANN doesn't really want to get involved with this because it means trouble: how much information on domain name holders should be freely and publicly available? ICANN doesn't really have any choice but to discuss it: the GNSO voted in a fundamental change after two years of work and that has to be acknowledged. The player to watch here will be the US government. If it is crazy enough to try to insist on keeping the status quo (where your home address and telephone number are available to anyone in the entire world), against the GNSO's own stated position, all hell will break loose. Of course, the US won't actually do that, it will instead try to muddy the issue, point to all the differences, and then say we need more discussion. But there is very little goodwill towards the US government at the moment following the .xxx debacle, so if it has any sense it will let it go. Here's betting it won't.

DNSSEC
Otherwise known as "are we still discussing this?" Another example of how ICANN's processes clearly aren't efficient enough. This more secure and stable method of underpinning the internet should have been done and dusted two years ago.

Domain Names
The one good example of ICANN thinking straight. There are a whole range of new issues over domain names and ICANN is precisely the forum where they should be being discussed. There is a workshop, run by Jothan Frakes, and everyone of importance is slated to talk. If only ICANN meetings had more of these events. Frakes has talked a little about it on ICANNWatch.

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