Domain Name Reflection

ASPEN, COLORADO (08/22/2000) - With plans to step down in November from her post as chair of ICANN (the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers), Esther Dyson on Wednesday recapped some of the organization's early growing pains.

Dyson looked back on some of the stumbles ICANN made in its efforts to become the regulatory body charged with handling domain name disputes and managing the Internet's infrastructure.

"From the beginning we had to deal with the notion of some people that we were giving away an American birthright to foreigners," said Dyson, who added that the organization has also had to fight back the notion that ICANN was an effort to let corporations take over the Internet.

"We made some mistakes early on by taking on the bylaws of a charity and not a regulatory body that is accountable to everybody," she said in a keynote speech here at a technology policy conference sponsored by the Progress & Freedom Foundation, based in Washington.

Still, ICANN has managed to set up successfully its Uniformed Dispute Resolution (UDRP), which kicks in at the onset of a dispute over domain names and copyright claims.

"We are also at the point of doing more in terms of competition," said Dyson.

Soon, new top level domain names (TLDs) will be offered beyond the standard .com, .net, and .org.

"Some examples are .bank, .air for airlines, .esq for lawyers, and .sucks for protest sites," she said.

But along the way to ushering in new ways to deal with disputes and assign domain names, ICANN has had its share of troubles. Chief among those is the fact that the organization must rely on lawyers to approve text on the ICANN Web site.

"So we've had a hard time trying to explain ourselves," said Dyson, who also said ICANN has been a victim of its own bad public relations efforts.

While stating vehemently that on behalf of ICANN she wants to own up to early stumbles, Dyson said that many missteps were inevitable, given ICANN's murky charter.

"We are not a government agency, and we do not govern," she said. "And we are not a consumer protection agency, though I get complaint letters all the time about, let's face it, the industry's biggest player, Network Solutions," she said, referring to the domain-name registration entity.

Also clouding ICANN's ability to execute has been the questions surrounding the Internet's infrastructure -- whether it should be treated as a single system or a more "messy" collection of separate entities.

"Our first mission is the stability of the Internet, so the question becomes how much diversity do you allow not at the center but at the bottom on issues such as the kind of language you allow into domain names," she said.

Dyson said she plans to remain active in ICANN issues, emerging after her November retirement as one of the organization's most vocal critics, and challenging the organization to do its best.

Jennifer Jones is an InfoWorld senior editor.

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