U.S. Shut Out In Internet Domain Agency Elections

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) held their inaugural elections this week, voting in three of the first 18 members of a board that will assume responsibility on important Internet policies such as domain name registration and trademark disputes.

In the first round of elections, the United States’ two candidates for the three seats — a former Congressman from Washington state and a departing executive of controversial domain name registration company Network Solutions Inc. — were edged out by candidates from Mexico, Spain and Canada.

The 18-member ICANN board will replace the nine-person interim board, which was appointed after the U.S. Congress established the organization in October of 1998.

Mexican professor Alejandro Pisanty, Spanish professor Amadeu Abril i Abril and Canadian copyright attorney Jonathan Cohen won election as the first of nine candidates from ICANN’s three supporting organizations: The Domain Name Supporting Organization, the Protocol Supporting Organization and the Address Supporting Organization.

Nine more members will be selected by at-large representatives of regular Internet users before the group assumes full responsibility next September.

Complex Internet Regulation

The complexity of the shift from a primarily U.S.-backed ad hoc system to an international non-profit organization with regulatory mandate can be complex even to industry insiders.

As the value of domain names skyrockets on a parallel path with the explosive growth of e-commerce, the need for an overseeing body became clear. Increasing copyright disputes and claims that NSI held a virtual monopoly on domain name registration by virtue of a government contract underscored the need.

After a very public battle in which ICANN and others lambasted NSI for trying to block opening up the domain name industry to competition and NSI accused ICANN of exceeding its mandate, the two groups signed tentative agreements last month.

ICANN, NSI and the U.S. Department of Commerce put their names on a set of agreements that call for NSI to recognize the authority of ICANN to regulate the domain name system and to grant public rights to parts of its domain name database.

In exchange, NSI will be paid $6 (US$) for every “dot-com,””dot-org,” and “dot-net” top-level domains which it currently runs. The company had first pressed for a $9 fee.

Critics complain that NSI still effectively controls the domain name registration, despite ICANN’s accreditation of 70 registrars around the world to sell Internet names.

ICANN’s board will vote on whether to endorse the agreements at its next meeting in Los Angeles in November.

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