The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has attracted criticism for its decisions and direction, and may now be living on borrowed time.

ICANN’s main job is to ensure the stability and security of the DNS, and the organization is credited with creating competition for domain names and registries.

Bush administration officials must decide by September 30 whether to renew the 1998 agreement that created ICANN, or revert control of the Domain Name System (DNS) to the US government – a move that would end the attempt to privatize the management of the Internet’s address system.

While still supportive of the ICANN model, the administration hasn’t decided whether to extend the agreement, modify it, or let it expire, said Nancy Victory, an assistant secretary for communications and information at the US Department of Commerce. She testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space last week.

Reforms The next couple of months will be crucial for ICANN, said Victory, who outlined a series of steps that administration officials want the organization to take to improve its operations. These include making reforms to ensure accountability, giving all Internet stakeholders a fair hearing, and developing an effective advisory role for government.

The body was criticized in a report, issued last week by the US General Accounting Office, for moving too slowly to improve the security of the 13 DNS root servers. An enhanced technology architecture proposal was due to the Commerce Department nearly two years ago, but is still incomplete.

ICANN also faces criticism over the process it used to pick seven new top-level domains in late 2000, which resulted in the rejection of numerous proposals. Its process for electing board members has been another controversial sticking point.

Bias “Bias and favouritism are woven deeply into ICANN’s form,” said dissident ICANN board member Karl Auerbach at last week’s subcommittee hearing. “ICANN resists public accountability.” Auerbach urged the Commerce Department to exercise “real oversight” of ICANN.

ICANN itself has proposed a series of internal reforms intended to address some of the issues, including changes in its policy-development process, and the composition of its board.

“Is everything perfect? Of course not,” said Stuart Lynn, ICANN’s president. Lynn defended ICANN’s effort to reform itself, and said that venturing into policy areas can’t easily be avoided. For instance, in creating top-level domains, ICANN must consider non-technical issues such as which companies would operate them and for how long, he said.