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Transition

Despite claims earlier in the week, quoting US Ambassador David Gross as saying that the US government would not hand over control of ICANN anytime soon, ICANN CEO Twomey said the situation is very different. "Firstly, the Administration has committed itself to private sector management of the DNS and said that it would transition its role to the private sector. Secondly, it has said it is supporting ICANN in its function for doing that. And thirdly, as John [Kneuer] said today, it sees the MoU as the instrument to that transition," he told us.

Asked if he could therefore see an autonomous ICANN, with all governmental control run through the GAC, at the end of the next MoU, Twomey was unequivocal: "Yes."

But he recognisedthat there is still much to do before the DoC will cut its ties with the organisation. In particular, Secretary Kneuer has consistently and publicly questioned ICANN's accountability and transparency.

Twomey assured us that the ICANN Board was "very aware" of the issues and in the next few months would issue a "set of principles" that will revamp the way it carries out its role and hopefully answer accusations of back-room dealing. He said the transparency issue is one more of accessibility. The information is all available on the organisation website but it is not made accessible, is the argument. In response, ICANN has started redesigning its website and yesterday announced the hiring of two dedicated staff to improve its site's content and approach.

Changes afoot

Twomey also promised that the much-derided appeals process within ICANN would be made easier to locate and run through. The first report to be released by ICANN's Ombudsman has also added to the sense that ICANN has started listening to its critics. And a report out last week by the London School of Economics lends weight to Twomey's claim to be building ICANN in preparation for autonomy. It makes some bold statements and stark recommendations for changes to the GNSO, the consistuency within ICANN that makes most of its important policy decisions.

But several stumbling blocks remain. Despite persuading the sceptical owners of country top-level domains such as .uk and .de to recognise ICANN, the organisation has still to formalise its relationship with regional internet registries or with the organisations that run the internet's fundamental root servers. Until this is done, ICANN is unable to act as an independent force across the whole Net infratructure.

Also there remains the risk of renewed hostilities between ICANN and VeriSign, the internet's most powerful company, which runs the dotcom and dotnet registries. Through judicious use of lawsuits, VeriSign prevented ICANN from expanding its reach for years. But last year the two finally reached agreement.

The problem is that the agreement - which hands VeriSign effective permanent control of all dotcoms and allows it to raise prices at a time when prices everywhere else are going down - has angered the rest of the internet community as well as US politicians. The deal has been held up in Congress where it is accused of being anti-competitive. ICANN will fear that if the deal falls apart, all its hard work could fall apart. However as each day passes, VeriSign has less chance of going back on the deal, even if it is forced to make concessions to get it through.

At the moment, with those problems a short distance into the future, Paul Twomey is revelling in having pulled off a job many thought impossible - pulling administration of the internet passed VeriSign, the US government and the United Nations without losing most of it on the way. "I think it went reasonably well," he told us on his mobile from outside the US Senate. ®

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