Flak flies over ICANN contract renewal

The US Department of Commerce has quietly renewed ICANN's contract to run the Internet - but other organisations are crying foul, saying ICANN is simply not up to the job

The US Department of Commerce has come under fire for awarding, without a proper tender process, a contract for running the most basic and crucial functions of the Internet to ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Despite widespread criticism over its past performance, ICANN has now looks likely to run the functions of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) for another three years. The most important functions of IANA include coordinating the root zone of the domain name system, and allocating IP address spaces; functions that are crucial to the stability of the Internet.

At the end of January the US Department of Commerce issued a notice of intent to issue ICANN a sole-source, no-cost purchase order to continue its contract to run the functions of IANA. But now two groups are crying foul, saying that other organisations should have had a chance to bid for the contract.

The Internet Multicasting Service, a group that bid unsuccessfully for the right to run the .org domain, and Nominet, the .uk country code top-level domain (ccTLD) registry, have both written to the Department of Commerce expressing their dismay about the way the contract was renewed.

In an open letter to the Department, Carl Malamud, chairman of IMS, said his organisation -- and many others -- would be better placed to run IANA. "ICANN's performance of the IANA function does not enjoy the support of key constituencies," said Malamud, "and this fractured support threatens the stability, security and reliability of the Internet."

Malamud said the Department of Commerce should conduct an open, competitive bidding process to see if other organisations could better promote the stability, security and reliability of the Internet. In particular, said Malamud, the IANA functions are in dire need of updating -- a process that would save costs, and increase productivity of users, registries and industry.

Some IANA functions, said Malamud in his letter, are based on technologies that date back 20 years or more. "Unique values are hand-edited into ASCII-based, unstructured text files. No consistency checks are provided, there is no systematic mirroring procedure to make sure that multiple locations all have the same data, and there is no notification procedure to let people know when new values are allocated."

IMS would replace this with an XML-based system.

But it is the controversy surrounding ICANN that makes it most unsuitable to continue running the IANA functions, said Malamud. "We respectfully submit that the controversy surrounding the non-IANA and IANA-based functions of ICANN has been a huge distraction and threatens the stable and secure operation of the IANA. The interests of the Internet community-at-large, industry, and the clients of the IANA would be best served without this surrounding controversy."

In Europe, Nominet does not believe that ICANN could never perform the IANA function acceptably. In his letter to the Commerce Department, Nominet chairman Dr Willie Black said the problem is that ICANN simply has not listened to the concerns of the ccTLD registries.

"We have attempted to persuade the management of ICANN to adopt a more lightweight approach, to concentrate their policy discussions on persuasive rather than binding agreements, to separate the funding aspects of policy-making and operations and only to do those minimum functions necessary to give a business efficacy to their technical coordination role," said Black. "Regrettably, ICANN does not appear to have listened to our concerns, which are shared by many other key providers worldwide."

Black said the management of the IANA database "must not seek to override the wishes and policies developed in countries outside of the US." He also said the IANA function should be funded and overseen by the TLD managers themselves. "Budgets must be prepared which are acceptable to those paying the funds and, within the contexts of the relative GDPs of ccTLDs' host countries, the payments should be equally spread, since all are receiving the same service."

The Council of European National Top-Level Domain Registries (CENTR), is also understood to be making a submission.

For everything Internet-related, from the latest legal and policy-related news, to domain name updates, see ZDNet UK's Internet News Section.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.