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Icann gains independence from the US

The organisation that oversees domain names and IP addresses is now accountable to the internet community worldwide
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the body that oversees some of the core mechanisms of the internet, has been granted independence from the United States government.

On Wednesday, Icann and the US Department of Commerce announced that they had signed a new agreement that states the internet body is "independent and not controlled by any one entity". It also commits Icann to remaining a private, not-for-profit organisation.

A previous arrangement between the US government and Icann has just ended, paving the way for the new deal.

"[The agreement] commits Icann to reviews performed by the community — a further recognition that the multi-stakeholder model is robust enough to review itself," the internet organisation said. It added that the deal was "long-standing" and not limited to the three-year term specified in previous agreements.

Icann was set up in 1998 to oversee functions such as top-level domain-name system management and IP address space allocation on behalf of the US government. In recent years, there have been growing calls for Icann to become accountable to the rest of the world.

The new deal "marks an exciting new stage in Icann's development as a truly international entity and it confirms once and for all, that the Icann model of public participation works, and works effectively", Rod Beckstrom, Icann's chief executive, said in a statement.

"One world, one internet, everyone connected — this is our goal at Icann," Beckstrom said.

The European Commission, which has been calling for Icann's independence from the US government since 2005, was swift to praise Wednesday's announcement.

"I welcome the US administration's decision to adapt Icann's key role in internet governance to the reality of the 21st century and of a globalised world," information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement.

"Internet users worldwide can now anticipate that Icann's decisions on domain names and addresses will be more independent and more accountable, taking into account everyone's interests," Reding added. "External review panels will periodically evaluate Icann's performance. If effectively and transparently implemented, this reform can find broad acceptance among civil society, businesses and governments alike."

Under the terms of the new agreement, the US Department of Commerce takes a seat on Icann's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), a gathering of representatives of the internet community that reviews the accountability of Icann.

Reding said the European Commission will play an active role in the GAC and in further reform of the committee itself. In addition, she called for all parties to work out "stronger external appeal mechanisms in relation to decisions of the Icann board".

Several internet industry leaders were quoted in Icann's statement as praising the move. Internet co-inventor Vint Cerf said the new deal "fulfils a long-standing objective of the original formation of Icann: to create an organisation that can serve the world's interest in a robust, reliable and interoperable internet."

Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said his company endorsed the deal and applauded "the maturing of Icann's role in the provision of internet stability".

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