The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has reached a new agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce allowing the nonprofit greater independence, while giving more countries oversight of the organization.
The new agreement, called an Affirmation of Commitments, sets up reviews of ICANN's performance every three years, with members of ICANN advisory committees, the Department of Commerce (DOC), independent experts and others serving on the review teams.
The DOC will continue to be involved in ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee, but the new agreement recognizes ICANN as a global "private-sector led organization."
The new agreement is a "huge moment not just for ICANN but for the Internet," said Paul Levins, vice president at ICANN. "This really vital resource was being overseen by one government."
The U.S. government will have "one seat at the table" for the three-year reviews, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said in a video on the organization's site. "What it really means is we're going global," he said. "All the reviews and all the work done will be submitted for public comment to the world. But there's no separate or unique or separate reporting to the United States government. All the reporting is to the world; that's the real change."
The new agreement was announced Wednesday, the same day that an 11-year series of memorandums of understanding between ICANN and the DOC expired.
The new agreement won praise from critics who have complained that the U.S. government has had too much control over ICANN, which manages the Internet's DNS (domain name system). The new agreement should allow ICANN to become more open and accountable to users worldwide, said Viviane Reding, the European Union's commissioner for information society and media.
The new agreement ends "unilateral" review of ICANN by the DOC and sets up independent review panels, she said in a statement.
"I welcome the U.S. administration's decision to adapt ICANN's key role in internet governance to the reality of the 21st century and of a globalized world," Reding said in her statement. "If effectively and transparently implemented, this reform can find broad acceptance among civil society, businesses and governments alike."
The challenge, she said, will be to make ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee more effective, as it has a major role in appointing the review panels. "Independence and accountability for ICANN now look much better on paper," she said. "Let's work together to ensure that they also work in practice."
The new agreement commits ICANN to a "multi-stakeholder, private sector led, bottom-up policy development model for DNS technical coordination." It also requires ICANN to "adhere to transparent and accountable budgeting processes, fact-based policy development, cross-community deliberations, and responsive consultation procedures that provide detailed explanations of the basis for decisions."
ICANN will publish annual reports that measure the organization's progress and it will provide a "thorough and reasoned explanation of decisions taken, the rationale thereof and the sources of data and information" on which it relied.
While the expiration of the old agreement with the DOC "threatened to open an accountability gap" for ICANN, the new agreement should resolve that concern, added Steve DelBianco, executive director of e-commerce trade group NetChoice.
"The Commerce Department has crafted an arrangement here that delivers what the global Internet community has clamored for: permanent accountability mechanisms to guide ICANN in the post-transition world," he said. "These reviews should help ICANN stay focused on security, choice and consumer trust, with an added emphasis on interests of global Internet users—especially those who can't yet use their native language in domain names or e-mail addresses."
The new agreement addresses an issue that's been missing at ICANN, "a balanced way to bring all governments into the oversight process alongside private sector stakeholders, with a sharpened focus on security and serving global internet users," he added.
The Internet Society, a nonprofit organization focused Internet-related standards, education, and policy, also praised the new agreement, saying it emphasizes ICANN's obligation to "act in the public interest as the steward of a vital shared global resource."
The new agreement doesn't change the DOC's contract with ICANN to perform the functions of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which is responsible for the global coordination of the DNS Root, IP addressing, and other Internet protocol resources.
The DOC, in the new agreement, also doesn't endorse ICANN's efforts to allow an unlimited number of new generic top-level domains, such as .food or .basketball. The controversial plan has met resistance from trademark owners, who say they'd have to register for dozens of new Web sites to protect their brands.
"Nothing in this document is an expression of support by DOC of any specific plan or proposal for the implementation of new generic top level domain names or is an expression by DOC of a view that the potential consumer benefits of new gTLDs outweigh the potential costs," the new agreement said.