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Governments to decide future of net

Major shift in power in ICANN

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ICANN Marrakech In an historic shift of power, international governments will this week argue that they should take the lead role in "public policy" issues on the Net - effectively deciding the future course of much of the internet.

The request will come in an official communique from the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of internet overseeing organisation ICANN tomorrow. It forms part of an "enhanced co-operation" mechanism agreed in theory at the World Summit in Tunis last November.

Part of the communique will state that the GAC "should identify issues where there may be public policy concerns... and bring them to the attention of other ICANN constituents". The GAC will also request that there is an "early warning system" from ICANN over any upcoming issues that may have a public policy element, and request that ICANN both extend its current 21-day public notice period as well as provide it with all relevant information 30 days before an ICANN meeting.

The GAC will also suggest that a new working group, encompassing all of the different elements of the internet community, be created to improve communication across ICANN as a whole. And it will also ask that more material is made available in languages other than English.

Many of the changes are no more than a reflection of how seriously the Internet is now taken by governments worldwide. It is an open secret that where in the past government officials were able to make decisions regarding the internet with a minimum of review, now many governments insist on high-level approval of any significant decisions. This process takes time and, the GAC argues, the system must be adjusted to account for new realities.

However, the attempt to put the GAC at the heart of "public policy issues" - which in reality means anything that isn't purely technical - will worry many within the ICANN system who are used to sharing official equity in decision-making processes.

ICANN CEO Paul Twomey - a former chair of the GAC himself - had made clear in the past that he sees any decision by the GAC as binding in anything but the most extraordinary circumstances. The significant risk by providing governments with the public policy remit however is that the GAC's tendency toward caution will end up stymying innovation on the Net.

In return, the GAC is expected to promise a streamlining of the current decision-making process, although how much of that is expected to come from the changes themselves and how much from reviewing the existing system is unclear.®

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