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U.S. Extends ICAAN Agreement 3 Years

The U.S. Commerce Department promised Friday to take more of a hands-off approach to the Internet as it extended for three years its oversight of a California organization that handles network-address issues.

Internet registrars, some foreign governments and other critics of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers have complained about the U.S. oversight role, saying the group sometimes make decisions that don't reflect the Internet community at large.

Under the new agreement, the Commerce Department will "continue to provide expertise and advice on methods and administrative procedures to encourage greater transparency, accountability, and openness," according to the agreement. No specific initiatives were announced.

"It's always been our express intent ... for an independent, private sector-led ICANN," said John M.R. Kneuer, the Commerce Department's acting assistant secretary for communications and information.

ICANN was created in 1998 to handle the Internet's addressing issues, including the key directories that help Web browsers and e-mail programs find other computers on the Internet.

It will no longer have its work prescribed for it by the Commerce Department.

"How it works and what it works on is up to ICANN and its community to devise," according to a statement released by the Marina del Rey, California-based group.

ICANN also is no longer required to provide a report to the Commerce Department every six months, but it will now file an annual report addressed to the whole Internet community.

"The ICANN model of multi-stakeholder consultation is working and this agreement endorses it," Paul Twomey, ICANN's president and chief executive, said in a release.

After 18 months, the Commerce Department will conduct a review of progress achieved on each task that will include consultation with other stakeholders.

That review is a good step, but there should be more specific goals and deadlines included in the agreement to measure responsiveness for the rest of the world, said Michael Gallagher, Kneuer's predecessor who is now a partner at Perkins Coie law firm in Washington.

The next three years are critical to ICANN with "less cover provided by the Department of Commerce," Gallagher said. "Decisions need to be made in Internet time, not bureaucrat time."

Friday's "joint project agreement" follows an internal review of the existing memorandum of understanding and a public consultation process that resulted in more than 700 contributions from individuals, private corporations, trade associations, nongovernmental entities and foreign governments.

When Commerce last renewed the agreement in 2003, it suggested ICANN would be ready for self-sufficiency by Sept. 30, 2006. But even advocates of independence believe ICANN is still not ready to take that step.

In recent years, many countries frustrated with U.S. control of the Internet -- a global resource -- have called for a takeover by an international body like the United Nations, but the United States resisted and during a U.N. summit in November won an endorsement from world leaders for keeping control.

Instead, the United States agreed to join in a newly created international forum to discuss matters ICANN wouldn't normally handle. That forum is scheduled to convene in Athens on Oct. 30.