August 2006 - Editor's Perspective

Is the Web Address System Debate a Tangled Mess?

On July 26, the U.S. Commerce Department held a public hearing to discuss whether or not the federal govenment should relinquish control of the web address system to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit based in Marina del Rey, Calif. The ICANN has been overseeing the domain name system for the past eight years under the watchful eye of the Commerce Department.

A plan was established in 2000 whereby the government would give the ICANN total rein over the Internet address system. However, five years and five delays later, the Commerce Department is still not ready to cut the apron strings quite yet. With the next deadline slated for September 30, the Commerce Department decided to open the floor for further discussion during a public hearing.

According to a July 27 Los Angeles Times article, many who came forward to weigh in on the debate criticized the current system, yet agreed with the government that the ICANN isn’t prepared to administrate the Internet domain name system on its own.

Further, speakers agreed that more work needs to be done on the part of the ICANN before it can be trusted to handle this important responsibility without having to answer to the Commerce Department. However, part of the government’s hesitancy is because it believes the non-profit has yet to reach certain performance standards.

These constant delays have not only affected those in the U.S., but the global community is up in arms over this debate as well. Other countries support privatization, as they believe the U.S. should permit more international control of the domain name system. What is at stake here is that some countries, fed up with the U.S.’ tight grip on the Internet, are threatening to break away and form their own domain name system. Many critics believe this could cause a chain reaction and further weave a tangled web. How? It could cause duplicate domain names in other countries, which would be a nightmare for companies and users, if not a complete branding disaster.

The LA Times article further reports that many of those who attended the public hearing urged the ICANN to come forward and be less evasive about the way in which it runs its operations. For example, after the non-profit’s board recently turned down a proposal for a .xxx domain for pornographic sites, some blasted the ICANN-implying that the White House swayed the final vote.

I believe that the Commerce Department and the ICANN need to reach a resolution to this issue and quickly. There needs to be a mutual understanding of the specific standards that must be in place before the ICANN would be granted control over the domain name system. However, the Commerce Department should have the right to intervene if it can prove the non-profit is clearly abusing its authority.

The Commerce Department cannot run the risk of letting the ICANN take over too soon, especially if it is not adequately prepared. Thus, the government needs to set a deadline and commit to it. If the Commerce Department continues to drag its feet causing more delays, it could force the rest of the world to secede and create their own systems, which could lead to mass chaos in cyberspace.

Vitisia Paynich


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