Reforms and changes are coming to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit group that runs the Internet's Domain Name System.
After four days of meetings in Shanghai that ended today, ICANN's board of directors approved a wide-ranging set of bylaw changes aimed at addressing issues that have caused rifts among the group's membership over how ICANN watches over the Internet.
In a telephone interview with reporters today, M. Stuart Lynn, ICANN's president and CEO, said the meetings were "a major step forward on the reform trail" and will help the nonprofit group as it strives to be more responsive to complaints and criticisms from its membership.
Among the changes approved were a reduction in the number of board members from 18 to 15 and creation of an ombudsman's office. ICANN will also be dissolving the Protocol Supporting Organization, replacing it with a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), and will establish a Country-code Names Supporting Organization (CNSO). ICANN is also approving a name change for the Domain Name Supporting Organization, which will now be known as the Generic Name Supporting Organization (GNSO).
The new ICANN structure will include three supporting organizations -- the GNSO, the CNSO and the Addressing Supporting Organization -- with four standing advisory committees of the board: the Governmental Advisory Committee, the TAC, the DNS Root Server System Advisory Committee and the Security Advisory Committee.
Some proposed reforms and amendments didn't make it into the final package, Lynn said. Yesterday, ICANN held a public forum where members and others could give their views on the proposed changes. After hearing those comments, ICANN made additional changes to reflect the suggestions, he said.
Among them: Reversal of a recommendation that would have stopped ICANN members from being able to vote multiple times on issues, depending on what membership subgroups they represent. Under existing rules, for example, members get two votes on an issue if they are an Internet service provider and also a top-level domain (TLD) registry. Critics opposed a plan to limit each member to one vote, and the proposal was dropped, Lynn said.
"There were a lot of good arguments on why it was a bad idea," he said.
With the bylaws and changes approved, ICANN plans to meet again in December in Amsterdam to put in place a transition plan, he said.
Also discussed at the conference was the security and health of the Domain Name System itself, which underwent a distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attack last week when all 13 of its root servers were bombarded with messages meant to disrupt them.
Lynn said the hacker attack, which lasted about an hour on Oct. 21, showed that "stability is a prerequisite to security" because the system handled the disruption almost invisibly to users. "But that doesn't mean we can't do better," he said.
At the session, Steve Crocker, ICANN's security committee chief, gave an overview of the DDOS attack and its effects on the DNS system. "The whole purpose of the Internet is to pass traffic," Lynn said. "A DDOS attack is someone sending too much traffic. The answer is how long does it take to respond and to be sure there is capacity to withstand it until you can shut it off."
"The DNS isn't a black box that you can wrap chains around," Lynn said.
Also raised at the meetings was the possibility that some TLD holders may try to challenge ICANN next year for some of its administrative power.
Some of those TLD holders said they may want to try to take over some of the administrative work now done by ICANN under a contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce. The so-called Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) maintains administrative contacts for the Internet, updates name servers and completes other administrative tasks. Under an idea floated at the ICANN meetings, some TLD holders said they are thinking of making their own bid for the next IANA contract, which expires in March.
Lynn said the issue is evidence that "relations with the [TLD holders] always have their ups and downs." While some TLD holders were looking into such a possibility, not all feel that way, he said. "It depends on who you want to believe," Lynn said. "We're going to move forward in a positive way."