Lead with Knowledge

Learn to secure your PCs from new and unknown hacker attacks.

Free IDC White Paper - Discover Secure File Sharing for the Enterpriseattacks.

Home  //  Article
Print Article    Email Article
Window Manager
Brian Livingston
ICANN is making crucial decisions about the Web, but the whole world isn't watching

THE ORGANIZATION RESPONSIBLE for the technical coordination of the Internet is about to make decisions that will affect you for years to come. But, surprisingly, there's been little press coverage of the coming changes or how they'll be made.

I'll be in Yokohama, Japan, July 12 through 17 to cover the board meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This nonprofit entity was created by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1998 to oversee Internet policies.

Let's look at an example of what this means. Microsoft just announced that its Office applications could soon be run from the Internet. It calls this initiative Microsoft.NET.

A quick check on that name in Whois at shows that Microsoft reserved this combination less than seven months ago. In the future, the Redmond giant may want to add domain names such as microsoft.wireless, microsoft.handheld, microsoft.breakingupishardtodo, and so on.

Whether or not Microsoft (or anyone) can use descriptive names such as these is controlled by the Internet's "root servers." There are 13 of these heavy-duty servers around the world, 10 of them in the United States (see

ICANN will soon decide whether or not to open up the root server system so the, .net, and .org aren't the only choices for companies. (There are also codes, such as .gov, related to national governments.)

Almost all simple, single-word dot-coms are already taken. But expansion of cyberspace is the subject of two important battles: who will control the ICANN board and who will control the new domains.

1. Democracy now. Faced with protests last March, ICANN's appointed 19-member board backed off a plan to select new board members indirectly via committee.

Now, a minority of seats will eventually be elected directly by an "at-large" membership. Members will vote by e-mail, using secure PIN codes. This year, five seats will be elected, one from each major continent. (Go to to register to vote.)

Public-interest groups were shocked last month by new voting procedures proposed by ICANN staff.

A nominating committee, chosen by the board, will select candidates for the first five seats. Others who wish to appear on the ballot would have to get 10 percent of the entire at-large membership to visit the ICANN Web site and click a button to nominate them.

Jonathan Weinberg, professor of law at Wayne State University, in Michigan, says that "nobody will be able to win nomination" under ICANN's rules. Weinberg notes that California law (where ICANN is chartered) sets "reasonable" standards for nonprofit corporations with more than 5,000 members who elect board positions. Candidates may be nominated by either "1/20th of 1 percent" of voting members or 100 members, whichever is greater.

Common Cause and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) protested to ICANN chairwoman Esther Dyson that the 10 percent rule is not "a realistic goal for any candidate to reach." (To see the proposed rules and comments, go to Search your browser window for Weinberg, CDT, or Common Cause.)

To her credit, Dyson explained to me in an interview that "It's important to have alternatives to the ICANN-designated slate. We're trying to work out what the proper percentage for nomination should be."

I hope that's true. It would be tragic if the first truly global online elections were rigged.

2. Domain names for all. The existing ICANN board may call for proposals as early as Aug. 1 from companies that wish to run "registry servers." These companies would control the registration process for new domains, however many there are.

This process is vulnerable to conflict of interest. now not only registers new names but also is starting to auction them. If you miss the deadline to renew your annual fee, their upcoming new auction site can auction it off for thousands of dollars.

ICANN could end the inflation of domain names. Any string of up to 63 characters can technically be used after the "dot." Allowing registration of any unique combination would open up billions of new names. But ICANN has discussed permitting as few as two new domain types (see

An ICANN-related group, the Business Constituency of the Domain Names Supporting Organization, recommends that "eventually hundreds" of new suffixes should be permitted (see Even better would be an unlimited name space. We must prevent artificial cost spirals from chilling new Web ideas.

Next week, I'll have more on the changes we may see in Yokohama.


Web Technologies

SUBSCRIBE TO:    E-mail Newsletters  InfoWorld Mobile InfoWorld Magazine
Home  //  Article Print Article    Email Article
Back to Top


Introducing Primus Quick Resolve. Click to download a fact sheet.
Download the J.D. Edwards CRM white paper. Visit
Gateway: Your Reliable IT Provider of Business Technology Solutions
Learn to secure your PCs from new and unknown hacker attacks.
Get FREE Hurwitz Report: Control Your App Dev Costs with TogetherSoft!

E-mail Newsletters
InfoWorld Mobile
Print Magazine

Web-based training

Copyright 2001 InfoWorld Media Group, Inc.