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ICANN goes to the Caribbean

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ICANN Puerto Rico 2007 0

The ICANN Puerto Rico meeting kicked off this morning with the usual platitudes and words of gratitude for the host nation and sponsors, but it did give us an overview of what to expect from ICANN in the next few months.

Dr. Paul Twomey, ICANN's president, described the internet as the most empowering technology he had ever seen, and focused on the ongoing drive within ICANN itself to improve transparency and facilitate the public accessibility of ICANN's website. Multi-stakeholder is how ICANN describes itself, and the proliferation of groups within ICANN that represent private enterprise, the internet public, and governmental interests has led to a baffling alphabet soup of GNSOs, GACs, ALACs and assorted other representative bodies that all supply information to the ICANN web site. All in all, one of the best things ICANN has done the last few months is continue to make the once-inscrutable site more user-friendly. Kudos all around for that.

The meeting is also a continuation of ICANN's unfinished business. One of the major topics at the last meeting was the internationalization of domain names (IDN), which apparently has hit a few bumps on the road to development, and won't be ready for prime time until the first quarter of 2008 at the earliest, according to Dr. Vint Cerf, the chairman of the ICANN board, and legendary "father of the internet." Russians, for example, might want domains in Cyrillic rather than a latin script.

ICANN already has the Unicode needed for the IDNs - a set of 65,000 characters that comprises the sum total of all the alphabets of all the written languages on the planet. Unfortunately, the implementation of IDNs in a secure and stable form is proving to be much trickier than the compilation of the code itself. Cerf noted that a word might have more than one meaning or possible translation, and coordinating the implementation of stable IDNs among the 13 root servers so that users are directed to the correct site is taking longer than anticipated. The IDN program should make the internet truly international, but unfortunately the question and answer period expired before I could get a more technical answer about why the Unicode itself is insufficient- like ICANN initially assumed, why aren't the distinct characters alone sufficient?

Another major development involves expanding the real estate of the net itself. The current protocol - IPv4 - allows for a grand total of 4.3 billion distinct addresses, and with a worldwide internet community that is now over one billion users and growing rapidly, the current system is on pace to run out of distinct addresses sometime around 2011. The expansion of the internet beyond its North American base is one reason, but the proliferation of internet-connected devices is another. BlackBerries, refrigerators - well, Vint lost me on that one, but the point is valid nonetheless. The new standard - IPv6 - will accommodate 430 trillion, trillion, trillion distinct addresses, and will operate in parallel with the current IPv4 standard.

A more secure internet is on the way as well. DNS sec, which is a digital signature sandard for IP addresses, has been implemented in Sweden and Bulgaria, of all places. The idea is to ensure that users are not clandestinely rerouted to phony websites.

The ongoing controversy for the the approval of generic top level domains (gTLDs) will be tackled, too. Apparently, ICANN has taken the firestorm of criticism it received over the .xxx controversy to heart, and is genuinely trying to implement a more transparent and clear cut process for approving new gTLDs. The .xxx mess - in which a gTLD was approved, and then denied - made the whole process seem capricious and political, and whether it was or not, there is at the very least a perception problem.

The Register in the past has advocated a system in which simple, clear-cut rules are used, and any move in that direction is welcome.®

Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office

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